UPDATE: On Monday evening, military officials reported a debris field had been discovered in Williamsburg County about two hours northeast of Joint Base Charleston.
ABC News reported that command has been handed off to the Marine Corps.
An American F-35 fighter jet went missing after its pilot ejected somewhere over South Carolina.
Joint Base Charleston announced that it was working with Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort to locate the plane after a “mishap” on Sept. 17.
The unnamed pilot “ejected safely” from the F-35B Lightning II jet and was “transferred to a local medical center in stable condition,” according to a Facebook post from the base shared on Sept. 17. Joint Base Charleston asked the public to “cooperate with military and civilian authorities” as the search for the plane continues.
Citizens with any information have been asked to call Joint Base Charleston at (843) 963-3600.
The plane was reportedly left in autopilot mode when the pilot ejected and may have stayed airborne for a period of time, Jared Huggins, a spokesman for Joint Base Charleston, told the press. The F-35, which is manufactured by Lockheed Martin, costs approximately $100 million.
On Sept. 18, acting Marine Corps Commandant Eric Smith ordered all military aviation inside and outside of the United States to observe a two-day stand-down.
In total, the F-35 program is considered to be the United States’ most expensive weapons program. The government has spent approximately $400 billion to develop and acquire the planes and an estimated $1.2 trillion on maintenance and operation over the last 60 years, per Time.
“Huggins said searchers initially focused their attention north of the air base around Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion based on the jet’s last-known position and coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration,” said NBC News. “That effort expanded on Monday afternoon, as searchers had little luck in the initial search area.”
Huggins declined to say if he believed the plane had crashed and said more information would be forthcoming.
In a statement, Lockheed Martin said it is “aware of the mishap involving an F-35B from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and are thankful the pilot ejected safely,” per The Washington Post.
“We are supporting the government’s investigation,” said the company.
News of the missing plane went viral, with many X users mocking the federal government.
“How in the hell do you lose an F-35?” South Carolina Congresswoman Nancy Mace wrote in a post on X. “How is there not a tracking device and we’re asking the public to what, find a jet and turn it in?”
Mace told The Post and Courier she was increasingly frustrated with the lack of transparency from the military. She was briefed by the Marine Corps in her office on Sept. 18.
“They don’t know if the jet is in the air or if it’s in the water,” Mace told the outlet. “They have absolutely no idea.”
“This is a public safety issue,” she said. “The public ought to know.”
“I’m doing my part,” wrote Georgia Congressman Mike Collins in another post alongside a photo of a milk carton with a photo of the jet marked as missing. The milk carton’s advertisement noted anyone who finds the plane should call the Department of Defense and listed the reward at $6.2 Billion.
“If you have seen an F-35 in the woods, please contact the US Marines,” wrote Flightradar 24.
The US military is searching for a missing F-35B in South Carolina after the pilot ejected yesterday and the jet kept flying. If you have seen an F-35 in the woods, please contact the US Marines. pic.twitter.com/rpueqxuP0J
— Flightradar24 (@flightradar24) September 18, 2023