US military seeks help to find its lost stealth jet

Tuesday, Sep 19, 2023

WASHINGTON: A stealth-capable US fighter jet vanished on Sunday -- not from prying eyes but rather from the American military, prompting an unusual call to the public to help locate the missing multimillion-dollar plane.

After what authorities labeled a “mishap,” a pilot flying an F-35 in the southern state of South Carolina on Sunday afternoon ejected from the craft. The pilot survived, but the military was left with an expensive problem: it couldn’t find the jet, leading Joint Base Charleston to ask for help from local residents.

“If you have any information that may help our recovery teams locate the F-35, please call the Base Defense Operations Center,” a post from the base read on X, formerly known as Twitter. Base authorities said they were searching, in coordination with federal aviation regulators, around two lakes north of the city of Charleston. The planes, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, cost around $80 million each. The F-35 Lightning II jet is coveted by US allies around the world, especially Ukraine, with its distinctive shape and features that shield it from radar detection. But the fate of the missing aircraft remained unclear on Monday.

“We are currently still gathering information. The investigation is ongoing,” a JBC spokesman told AFP.

The pilot ejected for unknown reasons and parachuted safely into a North Charleston neighbourhood -- leaving the jet flying in what some called a “zombie state.”

In 1989 the pilot of a malfunctioning Soviet MiG-23 ejected over Poland and the jet continued to fly on autopilot until it crashed in Kortrijk, Belgium, more than 900-km away.

The disappearance of a highly advanced aircraft that costs at least $80 million sparked incredulous comments online.

“How in the hell do you lose an F-35? How is there not a tracking device and we´re asking the public to what, find a jet and turn it in?” said Nancy Mace, a member of Congress representing the Charleston.