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Crews start to recover debris of an F-35 fighter jet worth about $100 million as investigators probe the ‘mishap’ that forced a pilot to eject

Michel Euler/AP/File

Originally Published: 19 SEP 23 00:54 ET Updated: 19 SEP 23 09:15 ET By Nouran Salahieh, Oren Liebermann and Holly Yan, CNN

(CNN) — After an F-35 fighter jet disappeared into the South Carolina sky, officials have found its debris field and launched an investigation into the “mishap” that forced its pilot to eject, according to the US Marine Corps and a defense official with knowledge of the search.

The pilot ejected Sunday near Charleston and was taken to a local medical facility in stable condition, Joint Base Charleston said. But the fighter jet went missing.

The jet’s debris field – about two hours northeast of Joint Base Charleston – was discovered Monday after an extensive, multi-agency search from both the ground and air.

The F-35B Lightning II jet is described as “the most lethal, survivable and connected fighter jet in the world” by Lockheed Martin.

The jet costs about $100 million, said Russell Goemaere, spokesperson for the F-35 Joint Program Office.

The entire F-35 program is on track to cost $1.7 trillion over the lifetime of the plane.

It’s not clear what prompted the pilot to eject Sunday.

“The mishap is currently under investigation, and we are unable to provide additional details to preserve the integrity of the investigative process,” the Marines said in a statement Monday.

Before the debris field was found, the military made an unusual plea to the public for help finding the F-35 jet, saying its last known position was near Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion, northwest of the city of Charleston.

Community members are now being asked to stay away from the fighter jet’s remains while recovery crews work to secure the debris field in Williamsburg County.

“We are transferring incident command to the USMC this evening, as they begin the recovery process,” Joint Base Charleston posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Marine Corps pauses flight operations

It isn’t the first notable incident involving military aircraft in recent weeks.

The Marine Corps ordered a two-day pause in flight operations Monday, citing three “Class-A aviation mishaps” over the past six weeks.

“This stand down is being taken to ensure the service is maintaining operational standardization of combat-ready aircraft with well-prepared pilots and crews,” the Marine Corps said in a news release.

While the Marine Corps’ statement didn’t detail the other two mishaps, there were two aviation incidents that happened in August.

A pilot was killed on August 24 when a Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornet combat jet crashed near San Diego. The cause of the accident remains under investigation.

Days later, a Marine Corps MV-22B Osprey crashed during military exercises in Australia, killing three US Marines and leaving five others in serious condition. That crash also remains under investigation.

Though there is no indication of any connection between the crashes, all of the incidents are classified as Class-A mishaps by the Marine Corps – defined as an incident that leads to a fatality or more than $2.5 million in property damage.

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