The ongoing search for the wreckage of a Marine Corps F-35B jet fighter in South Carolina continues, 24 hours after the pilot safely ejected, leaving the aircraft to fly on its own.
In response to this incident, the Marines have also announced a two-day suspension of all flying activities across the service this week, with the primary objective being the assessment of safety practices. It is worth noting that this F-35 incident is the third to involve Marine Corps aircraft in recent weeks, including the tragic crash of a V-22 Osprey in Australia.
As of Monday afternoon, the Marines reported that the search for the missing F-35 is underway on both the ground and in the air, with the collaboration of various agencies, including local, county, and state law enforcement agencies throughout South Carolina.
Two man-made lakes have been identified by the Marines as potential crash sites, and they remain open for recreational use. The search has garnered significant attention, with Joint Base Charleston posting a request on social media, asking the public to contact them if they come across the aircraft.
The pilot successfully ejected following what the Marines have described as a “mishap” near Charleston, South Carolina—a terminology typically used during ongoing investigations into aircraft incidents. The F-35, equipped with stealth technology, possesses various modes that minimize its radar and detection visibility. The Marines have not disclosed the specific mission the aircraft, one of two on a sortie, was undertaking. The F-35B has an approximate range of 900 nautical miles.
The search for the missing jet is currently centered around Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion, both of which have an average depth of less than 20 feet, with their deepest points reaching around 75 feet. These lakes are located approximately 20 and 40 miles from Charleston, respectively.
Greg Lucas, a spokesperson for the state’s Department of Natural Resources, commented, “There probably aren’t two murkier lakes in South Carolina.” He noted that local law enforcement had aided in the search on Sunday, although the popularity of these lakes for recreational purposes meant that there were more pleasure boaters present than law enforcement. Notably, the aircraft are equipped with transponders and beacons.
Several F-35s have been successfully recovered from hostile environments, showcasing the aircraft’s resilience. For instance, the U.S. Navy managed to recover a carrier-based F-35C from a depth of over 12,000 feet after it crashed into the South China Sea last year. Additionally, a British F-35B crashed during takeoff from an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean in November 2021, prompting a three-week undersea search that culminated in the successful retrieval of the aircraft from the seabed. Japan also recovered one of its F-35s that had crashed off its northern coast in 2019.
The jet involved in this recent accident was assigned to a Marine Corps training squadron from the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, based in North Carolina. The base, however, has not yet responded to requests for comments, though they have stated their collaboration with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in locating the missing aircraft. The FAA, in turn, has declined to comment on the matter, deferring it to the military authorities.
Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the F-35, has produced over 1,000 of these single-seat, single-engine jets. It is important to note that deliveries to the U.S. are currently suspended while certain upgrades are completed. Since the F-35 entered service in 2015, around a dozen of these planes have been lost in crashes and accidents, a rate that is comparable to other aircraft types.
The F-35B, known for its ability to take off and land vertically like a helicopter, has a list price of approximately $90 million for the latest batches. Older models are priced higher, and additional upgrades have contributed to increased costs. As an example, the Air Force estimated that an F-35A, the most cost-effective of the three models, which crashed last year at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, was valued at $166 million, more than double the list price of the aircraft.
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