NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — The crash site of a stealth fighter jet that went missing over the weekend after its pilot ejected was located Monday in rural South Carolina after the military asked the public for help finding a plane built to evade detection.
The debris field was discovered in Williamsburg County, about two hours northeast of Joint Base Charleston. Residents were asked to avoid the area while a recovery team worked to make it safe.
“We are handing over incident command to the USMC this evening, as they begin the recovery process,” the base posted on the X social media platform Monday.
Authorities had been searching for the plane since the pilot, whose name has not been released, parachuted to safety in a North Charleston neighborhood around 2 p.m. Sunday. He was taken to a hospital, where he is in stable condition, Marine Maj. Melanie Salinas said.
“The incident is currently under investigation and we are unable to provide additional details to preserve the integrity of the investigative process,” the Marine Corps said in a press release Monday evening .
The Marine Corps announced Monday that it was suspending flight operations for two days after the fighter jet crashed — the third costly accident in recent weeks.
Gen. Eric Smith, acting commander of the Marine Corps, ordered the withdrawal while authorities searched near two South Carolina lakes for the missing FB-35B Lightning II plane.
This is the third event documented as a “Class A accident” in the past six weeks, according to a Marine Corps announcement. Such incidents occur when damages reach $2.5 million or more, a Department of Defense aircraft is destroyed, or a person dies or is permanently disabled.
Commanders will spend the suspension period reinforcing safe flying policies, practices and procedures with their Marines, according to Monday’s release.
The announcement gave no details about the two previous incidents. But in August, three U.S. Marines were killed when a V-22B Osprey tilt-rotor plane crashed during a training exercise in Australia, and a Marine Corps pilot was killed when his fighter jet crashed near a San Diego base during a training flight.
Cpl. Christian Cortez, a Marine with the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, said the details of what caused the pilot to eject from the plane Sunday were under investigation.
Based on the location and trajectory of the missing plane, the search initially focused on Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion, said Senior Master Sgt. Heather Stanton at Joint Base Charleston. Both lakes are north of North Charleston.
A helicopter from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division joined the search after bad weather cleared in the area, Stanton said. Military officials launched an online appeal Sunday for any help from the public in locating the plane.
The pilot of a second F-35 returned safely to Joint Base Charleston, Salinas said.
The planes and pilots were part of Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing based in Beaufort, near the South Carolina coast.