Debris from a U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Joint Strike Fighter that has been missing since yesterday has been found in South Carolina. The jet's pilot safely ejected near Charleston after experiencing a still unknown issue that also rendered the transponder inoperable, but the aircraft continued on for some time. The jet was on autopilot and was not tracked to a crash site, so a major search operation was launched, as you can read more about in The War Zone's initial reporting.
The full official statement is as follows:
"Personnel from Joint Base Charleston and Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, in close coordination with local authorities, have located a debris field in Williamsburg County."
"The debris was discovered two hours northeast of Joint Base Charleston. Teams from Joint Base Charleston, Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing out of MCAS Cherry Point, Navy Region Southeast, the FAA, the Civil Air Patrol, as well as local, county, and state law enforcement across South Carolina have been working together to locate the U.S. Marine Corps F-35B."
"Members of the community should avoid the area as the recovery team secures the debris field."
"JB Charleston is transferring incident command to the USMC this evening, as they begin the recovery process."
"The mishap is currently under investigation, and we are unable to provide additional details to preserve the integrity of the investigative process."
"We would like to thank all of our mission partners, as well as local, county, and state authorities, for their dedication and support throughout the search and as we transition to the recovery phase."
Local media reports say that the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources has a part of Bartells Crossroads in Williamsburg County blocked off in apparent connection with the incident. This is some 65 miles northeast of Joint Base Charleston, which has been the focal point for the search effort over the past day or so. The Joint Strike Fighter that went down was assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501, based at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, which is situated around 50 miles to the southwest of Joint Base Charleston.
As The War Zone previously reported, the possibility that the F-35B could have continued flying in a 'zombie state' without a pilot for an extended period was not out of the realm of possibility. In addition, much of the area where the jet might have finally crashed consisted of lakes, marshy terrain, and rural areas which could have hampered the search.
At least some of the aircraft now appears to have been located.
We will continue to update this story as more information becomes available.
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