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F-35B goes missing after pilot ejects following a mishap

September 18, 2023 (by Lieven Dewitte) - Military officials are searching for an F-35 fighter jet in South Carolina after a mishap forced the pilot to eject. The jet was left in autopilot mode so there’s a possibility it was still airborne for a while.

An F-35B Lightning II fighter jet has gone missing somewhere over South Carolina after the pilot ejected.

The pilot ejected safely and was taken to a local medical facility in stable condition. The aircraft, an F-35B Lightning II jet, is currently being sought by emergency response teams. The jet belongs to Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron (VMFAT) 501, a unit focused on training pilots to meet annual training requirements.

The aircraft’s last known position was near Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion, two large bodies of water northwest of the city of Charleston, according to Joint Base Charleston, which asked for the public’s help finding the aircraft.

The jet’s transponder, which usually helps locate the aircraft, was not working “for some reason that we haven’t yet determined,” a spokesman at Joint Base Charleston, said, according to The Washington Post, which is why they put out the public request for help.

A South Carolina Law Enforcement Division helicopter joined the search for the F-35 after some bad weather cleared in the area.

The F-35B is used by the U.S. Marine Corps, as well as by the British Royal Air Force and Italy's air force, and can perform vertical and/or short take-off and landing (V/STOL). This variant of the F-35 is similar in size to the A variant but the B sacrifices about a third of the A variant's fuel volume to accommodate the shaft-driven lift fan (SDLF) system.

[Update 19 Sep 2023]: Debris from the jet has been located in South Carolina.

Additional images:

Lt. Col. Fred Schenk lifts off in F-35B Lightning II BF-02 from the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp on October 4th, 2011. [USNavy photo by PO3. Andrew M. Rivard]

VMFAT-501 welcomes the first UK F-35B Lightning II #ZM137 aboard at MCAS Beaufort on February 3rd, 2015. The jet was flown by RAF pilot Hugh Nichols, the UK senior national representative from Eglin AFB. [USMC photo]