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Debris has been located in search for the F-35 jet that went missing

A pilot ejected from an F-35B Lightning II near Charleston, S.C., prompting a search for the advanced fighter jet. The plane is from Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501; an F-35 from the squadron is seen here at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, south of Charleston.
Lance Cpl. Kyle Baskin
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Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort
A pilot ejected from an F-35B Lightning II near Charleston, S.C., prompting a search for the advanced fighter jet. The plane is from Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501; an F-35 from the squadron is seen here at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, south of Charleston.

Updated September 18, 2023 at 7:34 PM ET

A debris field has been identified as the remains of an F-35 fighter jet that went missing Sunday north of Charleston, S.C., officials said.

In a statement issued Monday afternoon, personnel from Joint Base Charleston say the debris field was discovered roughly two hours northeast of the base.

JB Charleston said in its statement that it is "transferring incident command" to the Marine Corps, as they will begin the recovery process.

The incident is currently under investigation, so officials say they are unable to provide any additional details while the investigation is underway. Those in the community have been cautioned to avoid the area.

Alert of a 'mishap' went out Sunday afternoon

The unusual events took place Sunday north of Charleston, S.C., where a pilot from Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 ejected from their jet — specifically, an F-35B Lightning II.

In an earlier statement to NPR, the Marine Corps did not specify whether the jet's transponder was on, nor whether it was carrying any armaments.

"The pilot ejected safely and was transferred to a local medical center in stable condition," said Joint Base Charleston, in a message sent on Sunday around 5:30 p.m. ET.

Emergency teams started looking for the fighter jet on Sunday; they were aided by the Navy, the FAA and Civil Air Patrol, along with multiple local and state police agencies, the base said in an update on Monday.

The fighter jet came from a squadron whose mission is to train pilots and support crews on the F-35. It also took part in airshow demonstrations.

The F-35B Lightning II has the ability to hover in the air and land in very small spaces compared to a traditional fighter jet. The missing plane comes from a squadron that trains pilots; it also takes part in airshow demonstrations.
Lance Cpl. Kyle Baskin / MCAS Beaufort
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MCAS Beaufort
The F-35B Lightning II has the ability to hover in the air and land in very small spaces compared to a traditional fighter jet. The missing plane comes from a squadron that trains pilots; it also takes part in airshow demonstrations.

It's not yet known what led the pilot to abandon the aircraft. The Marines and others involved in the search characterize the apparent crash as a "mishap" — one that is still being deciphered.

An F-35 crashed in South Carolina in 2018

The new mishap comes roughly five years after another Marine Corps F-35B crashed in South Carolina. In the September 2018 incident, the pilot was also able to eject and land safely.

The 2018 crash was blamed on a faulty fuel tube in the fighter, prompting an order to inspect the entire fleet of F-35 fighter jets owned by the U.S. and its allies. The planes were returned to service after crews ensured the flawed tube wasn't in their fuel systems.

An Air Force F-35A crashed in Utah last October after turbulence from another F-35A's wake confused the jet's flight control computer system as it was preparing to land. The pilot was unable to recover control due to the plane's low altitude and airspeed and was forced to eject, the Air Force said.

Another F-35 variant crashed in 2019 — this one an F-35A operated by Japan. The cause of that crash was determined to be human error after the pilot became disoriented.

An F-35B like the one lost in South Carolina currently costs about $80 million, according to recent reports.

The F-35 emerged from two decades of development that bloated its cost. Ten years ago, when a huge assembly line was being built to finally begin producing it, the Marine version of the jet topped $160 million. Its main military contractor, Lockheed Martin, predicted the price would come down as more of the fighters were made.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
Jonathan Franklin
Jonathan Franklin is a digital reporter on the News desk covering general assignment and breaking national news.