NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (CN) — The debris from a missing Marine fighter jet was found Monday evening in rural South Carolina, according to authorities.
The plane’s debris site was in Williamsburg County, about two hours northeast from where the F-35B Lightning II went missing after a mid-flight “mishap” Sunday afternoon forced its pilot to eject in North Charleston, according to a social media post from Joint Base Charleston.
“The mishap is currently under investigation, and we are unable to provide additional details to preserve the integrity of the investigative process,” the base wrote.
The discovery solved a central mystery that has sparked speculation and ridicule online: How did the military lose one of its fighter planes in South Carolina?
A resident called 911 before 2 p.m. to report a pilot had landed in the backyard of their residence, not far from Charleston International Airport in North Charleston, according to a police report. Security force members from the nearby military base took custody of the pilot’s parachute and other military equipment while the pilot was transported to the hospital.
Military officials reported several hours later that the pilot was in stable condition, but emergency response teams still had not found his plane.
They asked anyone with information to call the military base.
The search was initially focused around Marion and Moultrie lakes west of Francis Marion National Forest, a 250,000-acre boggy wilderness area that served as a hideout for a homicide suspect this year, but by Monday afternoon it had broadened to include rural areas further north.
Publicly available data from Flightradar24, a global flight-tracking service, showed military and law enforcement planes crisscrossing the state Monday afternoon as they hunted for the debris site.
U.S. Representative Nancy Mace said on social media that Marine Corps staff could not tell her during a morning briefing whether the jet crashed or remained airborne. A military spokesperson told NBC News there was a chance the plane remained in the air for some time after the pilot was ejected.
“We knew the F-35 was stealth, but this is ridiculous,” Mace wrote.
Lockheed Martin is the military contractor for the F-35B, which has been in development since 2001. The missing jet was stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and flown by Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501.
In 2018, the base's fleet of F-35s were grounded after a jet lost power and crashed. Investigators determined a defective engine fuel tube was to blame.
Gen. Eric Smith, the acting commandant of the Marines, ordered all aircraft to be grounded for two days this week to ensure operational safety standards are being met by combat aircrafts.Follow @SteveGarrisonPC
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