The United States’ military is on the hunt for an F-35 fighter jet that has gone missing following an incident that forced the pilot to eject from the advanced stealth aircraft over South Carolina.
Emergency response teams are trying to find what’s left of the F-35B Lightning II jet, which suffered what the military called a “mishap” on Sunday afternoon, according to social media posts by Joint Base Charleston, an airbase in South Carolina. The unidentified pilot ejected safely and was taken to a local hospital in a stable condition.
Joint Base Charleston called on the public to co-operate with military and civilian authorities as the search for the F-35 jet continues. The airbase said it was working with Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort to search for the plane north of North Charleston around Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion, based on its last-known location.
Lockheed Martin Corp is the manufacturer behind the F-35, a single-seat fighter craft used by militaries around the world. The aircraft was a vertical take-off version used by in the US Marine Corps, and the jet is popular for its stealth qualities that make it difficult to detect by radar.
The F-35 programme, the most expensive US weapons programme ever, is projected to cost $400 billion in development and acquisition, plus an additional $1.2 trillion to operate and maintain the fleet over more than 60 years. Each jet can cost more than $160 million, depending on the variant.
It’s not the first time an F-35 has been in trouble. An F-35B version crashed in 2018 in Beaufort County, South Carolina, because of a manufacturing defect in a fuel tube, according to the government accounting office’s report. The following year, a Japanese F-35A stealth fighter plunged into the ocean during an exercise over the Pacific Ocean, which Japan blamed on pilot disorientation, rather than technical issues.
The missing aircraft in the US swiftly drew online mockery, from postings with Missing-Jet fliers on lamp-posts and notices on milk cartons, to mashed up “Dude, Where’s My F-35″movie posters.
“Now that I got that out of the way. How in the hell do you lose an F-35?” South Carolina Republican representative Nancy Mace said on social media. “How is there not a tracking device and we’re asking the public to what, find a jet and turn it in?”