Missing F-35 leaves trail of questions

Many questions remain unanswered after a $100 million fighter jet went missing over the weekend and was found crashed in a rural wooded area of ​​South Carolina more than 24 hours later.

The wreckage of an F-35B Lightning II fighter jet, the Marine Corps variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, was discovered in Williamsburg County on Monday, a day after the pilot was forced to eject.

It remains unclear why the pilot had to eject from the jet in the first place, how the aircraft was able to fly that distance without guidance, and why it took so long to be discovered The soldiers are keeping quiet about what they know. far.

“The accident is currently under investigation,” Marine Corps spokesman Col. Joe Lightner said in a statement to The Hill. “In order to maintain the integrity of the investigation process, we are unable to provide further details.”

The jet in question is a single-seat F-35B manufactured by Lockheed Martin and costs $100 million, said Russell Goemer, a spokesman for the F-35 Joint Program Office.

The aircraft, which Lockheed calls “the world’s most advanced fighter jet,” can reach speeds of 1,200 miles per hour, fly undetected in hostile airspace and land vertically after short takeoffs.

The jet that went missing Sunday was from Joint Base Charleston’s 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, and the pilot took off from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, then ejected over North Charleston and parachuted to the ground. and landed in a suburban backyard.

However, the pilot, who is still unidentified, was quickly located and taken to a local hospital, but the Marines were unable to immediately locate the jet.

The search went on so long that it prompted an unusual call for help, and the base appealed to the public for information as teams searched the areas around Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion northwest of Charleston.

After an extensive air and ground search by multiple agencies, a patch of debris believed to be the plane was finally discovered on Monday evening, about two hours northeast of the takeoff site. The Marine Corps confirmed Tuesday that the aircraft shot down was an F-35.

Recovery teams are currently securing the debris field, but there is no word on how that effort is progressing, base officials told The Hill.

He also could not say how long the recall and investigation process is expected to last, but said: “It is certainly going to take a very long time.”

Some lawmakers and former officials are not satisfied with the incident or the answers they have received so far from the military.

Representative Nancy Mace (RS.C.) questioned how such an advanced aircraft was not closely tracked.

“How on earth do we lose the F-35?” Mace I wrote to X, the website formerly known as Twitter. “Why are we asking the public to find the jet and send it in when we don’t have tracking devices?”

Mace later said: ABC News Affiliate WCIV “It’s very frustrating not having answers.”

James Hutton, a retired Army colonel and former assistant secretary of Veterans Affairs, said the crash raises “a lot of questions.”

“Category will certainly limit what is made public, but taxpayers have a right to know some basic answers,” he said. I wrote to X.

The F-35 is equipped with a transponder to determine the aircraft’s location, but it is unclear whether the device was working at the time of the disappearance.

“That’s the $80 million question,” Mace said. “We’ve invested a lot of money into this program, and at the moment of an accident, we don’t know where the jet is. That’s completely unacceptable.”

The crash was the third Marine aircraft accident in the past six weeks, and the Marine Corps on Monday ordered a two-day safety shutdown to assess the situation.

“This action was taken to ensure that the military maintains operational standardization of combat-ready aircraft with well-prepared pilots and crews,” the military said in a statement.

The Marine Corps also had two crashes in August. One was an F-18 crash during a training flight near San Diego, killing the pilot, and the other was an MV-22B Osprey crash in Australia, killing three Marines and injuring 20 others.

All three accidents were classified as Class A accidents, which are accidents that result in death or property damage of more than $2.5 million.

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