Wreck of missing F-35 found as Marines ground flights

Suhaimi Abdullah/AP Photo

The wreckage of a missing F-35 jet that disappeared Sunday has been found less than 100 miles north of Charleston, a South Carolina military base announced Monday afternoon.

“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,” Joint Base Charleston announced in a statement on Facebook Monday afternoon. “The mishap is currently under investigation, and we are unable to provide additional details to preserve the integrity of the investigative process.”

The Marine Corps is taking over the investigation from the base, according to the statement.

The discovery closes the military's search for the plane, which disappeared over the weekend. On Sunday, an incident occurred in flight, prompting the pilot to eject safely from the Marine Corps aircraft, which can take off and land vertically. The jet’s last-known position was north of Joint Base Charleston, near Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion, the base announced Sunday.

Unable to locate the jet, the base called on the public to help, asking those with information to call the facility’s operations center.

The news of the disappearance prompted some disbelief from lawmakers. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), who represents the area in Congress, said said she felt “frustrated” by the Marine Corps’ response.

"Our community deserves basic, minimum answers," Mace said in an interview with a local news outlet in South Carolina. “Mistakes happen and it’s a matter of taking responsibility, ensuring trust in the process, trust in operations, trust that the community’s going to be kept as safe as possible even when there’s a jet missing.”

A spokesperson for the base, Jeremy Huggins, told the Washington Post on Sunday that the F-35’s transponder was not working “for some reason that we haven’t yet determined.”

The announcement comes as the Marine Corps has announced it will suspend aviation units’ flights for two days in response to this incident, the third flight mishap to occur in six weeks.

In a news release, the Marine Corps said commanders “will lead discussions with their Marines focusing on the fundamentals of safe flight operations, ground safety, maintenance and flight procedures, and maintaining combat readiness.”

The stand-down is needed, the Corps continued, “to ensure the service is maintaining operational standardization of combat-ready aircraft with well-prepared pilots and crews.”