UPDATE: Officials find debris from an F-35 fighter jet that crashed in South Carolina after the pilot ejected

Missing Marine Corps fighter jet

FILE – A Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, File)

The crash site of a stealth fighter jet that disappeared over the weekend after its pilot ejected was in rural South Carolina on Monday, after the military asked the public for help finding a plane designed to be evades detection.

The debris field was discovered in Williamsburg County, about two hours northeast of Joint Base Charleston. Residents were asked to avoid the area while a recovery team worked to make it safe.

“We are handing over operational command to the USMC this evening as they begin the recovery process,” the base posted on the social media platform X on Monday.

Authorities had been searching for the jet since the pilot, whose name was not released, parachuted to safety in a north Charleston neighborhood about 2 p.m. Sunday. He was taken to a hospital where he was in stable condition, said Marines Maj. Melanie Salinas.

“The mishap is currently under investigation and we are unable to provide additional details to preserve the integrity of the investigation process,” the Marine Corps said in a news release Monday evening.

The Marine Corps announced Monday that it would pause flight operations for two days following the fighter jet’s crash, the third costly accident in recent weeks.

Gen. Eric Smith, the acting commandant of the Marine Corps, ordered the withdrawal while authorities searched for the missing FB-35B Lightning II aircraft near two lakes in South Carolina.

It is the third event documented as a “Class A mishap” in the past six weeks, according to a Marine Corps statement. Such incidents occur when damage reaches $2.5 million or more, a Department of Defense aircraft is destroyed, or someone dies or becomes permanently disabled.

According to Monday’s news release, commanders will spend the standoff strengthening safe flying policies, practices and procedures among their Marines.

The announcement did not provide details about the previous two incidents. But in August, three U.S. Marines died when a V-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft crashed during an exercise in Australia, and a Marine Corps pilot died when his fighter jet crashed near a base in San Diego during a training flight crashed.

Cpl. Christian Cortez, a Marine with the 2nd Marine Aircraft Squadron, said details of what caused the pilot to eject from the plane Sunday are under investigation.

Based on the missing plane’s location and flight path, the search initially focused on Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion, said Senior Master Sgt. Heather Stanton at Joint Base Charleston. Both lakes are north of North Charleston.

A South Carolina Law Enforcement Division helicopter joined the search after bad weather cleared in the area, Stanton said. Military officials appealed to the public in online posts Sunday for help finding the plane.

The pilot of a second F-35 returned safely to Joint Base Charleston, Salinas said.

The aircraft and pilots belonged to Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, based in Beaufort near the South Carolina coast.

(Copyright 2023 The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Brian Ashcraft

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