US military asks for public help to locate missing F-35 fighter after pilot ejected

U.S. Marine Corps photo

An F-35B fighter jet operated by the United States Marine Corps went missing in South Carolina after the pilot was forced to eject from the aircraft. 

The fighter belonged to Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 (VMFAT-501) based at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina. It was part of a two-fighter formation, with the other F-35B returning and landing safely at Beaufort. The ejected pilot was safely recovered. 

“We’re working with MCAS Beaufort to locate an F-35 that was involved in a mishap this afternoon,” Joint Base Charleston said in an official statement, seeking assistance from the public in locating the aircraft. “If you have any information that may help our recovery teams locate the F-35, please call the Base Defense Operations Center.” 

The base added that search efforts in coordination with the FAA were focused around Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion, located north of the city of Charleston, South Carolina. 

According to information obtained from the Department of Defense by The War Zone, the F-35 was reportedly set on autopilot when the pilot ejected. This means that the stealth fighter continued to fly until it exhausted its fuel supply.  

Depending on the amount of fuel left before the ejection, the aircraft could have flown hundreds of kilometers. With the shortest operational range of the three existing variants, the F-35B can fly up to 900 nautical miles (1,700 km). 

A similar incident took place on September 4, 2022, when a Cessna Citation II private jet carrying four people crashed off the coast of Latvia. The aircraft, which became unresponsive shortly after takeoff, had crossed the airspace of Spain, France, Germany, and Sweden.  

According to a provisional report issued by the Federal Accident Investigation Office of Germany, the pilot, German businessman Peter Griesemann, and his passengers are likely to have lost consciousness after the depressurization of the business jet cabin. 

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