UPDATED 9/18, 8:30 p.m. ET: A debris field was located in South Carolina during the search for the F-35 fighter jet that had gone missing, according to military officials on Monday night. The wreckage was found in Williamsburg County, about two hours north of Charleston.
Joint Base Charleston did not confirm whether the wreckage belonged to the missing jet but urged residents to avoid the area while the Marine Corps “begin the recovery process.”
“We are unable to provide additional details to preserve the integrity of the investigative process,” officials said in their statement, per ABC News. “We would like to thank all of our mission partners, as well as local, county, and state authorities, for their dedication and support throughout the search and as we transition to the recovery phase.”
The discovery followed after more than 24 hours of intense search efforts, including an unusual plea for public assistance.
See original story below.
Per NBC News, authorities said that the U.S. fighter jet went missing on Sunday, September 17 following an unidentified issue that prompted the pilot to safely eject. Per a Facebook post shared by the Joint Base Charleston air base in North Charleston, the pilot was taken to a local medical facility in stable condition after they were recovered.
"We’re working with [MCAS Beaufort] to locate an F-35 that was involved in a mishap this afternoon. The pilot ejected safely. If you have any information that may help our recovery teams locate the F-35, please call the Base Defense Operations Center," Joint Base Charleston tweeted. "Based on the jet’s last-known position and in coordination with the FAA, we are focusing our attention north of JB Charleston, around Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion."
A spokesperson for Joint Base Charleston said that the aircraft was in autopilot mode at the time the pilot ejected, which means it could still be airborne somewhere over South Carolina or beyond. At the moment, however, searchers are scouring north of the air base around Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie because that's where the jet was last known to be. Spokesperson Jeremy Huggins said he could not confirm whether the jet had crashed or not.
The Washington Post reports that Huggins said "for some reason that we haven't yet determined, the jet's transponder doesn't appear to be working.
South Carolina's Republican representative Nancy Mace criticized the loss of the fighter jet. "How in the hell do you lose an F-35?" she tweeted. "How is there not a tracking device and we’re asking the public to what, find a jet and turn it in?" she later added, "We knew the F-35 was stealth, but this is ridiculous."