'I ejected': Pilot of crashed F-35 jet in South Carolina pleads for help in phone call

Emerging details from a four-minute phone call made by a military pilot to an emergency dispatcher show he was pleading for medical help after he ejected from an F-35 fighter jet and into a South Carolina resident's backyard.

The resident of the home, in North Charleston, first tells the dispatcher: “We got a pilot in the house, and I guess he landed in my backyard, and we’re trying to see if we could get an ambulance to the house, please."

The pilot then gets on the call to say: “Ma’am, a military jet crashed. I’m the pilot. We need to get rescue rolling. I’m not sure where the airplane is. It would have crash-landed somewhere. I ejected.”

A US Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II, a short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) version of the Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, flies past during a preview of the Singapore Airshow in Singapore on Feb. 13, 2022.
A US Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II, a short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) version of the Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, flies past during a preview of the Singapore Airshow in Singapore on Feb. 13, 2022.

The pilot's account comes the same day that a federal accountability office released a 96-page report urging the Department of Defense and the military services to "reassess the future sustainment strategy" of the aircraft model as it plans to spend $1.7 trillion on 2,500 F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter jets.

Over the weekend, a $100 million military aircraft went missing and flew without its pilot for 60 miles before crashing north of the Joint Base Charleston in South Carolina.

Pilot ejected after 'mishap': Missing F-35 jet flew for 60 miles without a pilot

Debris from the jet was located Monday in Indiantown, South Carolina, 80 miles north of the base after a malfunction caused the pilot to eject from the aircraft and land in a residential backyard about 1 mile north of the Charleston International Airport on Sunday.

Little is known about what caused the jet to go untraced because the U.S. Marine Corps hasn't released much information on how the "most expensive" aircraft went missing and crashed. The Marine Corps has said the plane was flying at an altitude of about 1,000 feet and it has a flight control software that could explain how it continued to fly without a pilot, the Associated Press reported.

“This is designed to save our pilots if they are incapacitated or lose situational awareness," the Marine Corps said in a statement, according to the AP. There is an investigation into the case.

The F-35 that crashed in South Carolina is one of about 450 owned by the DOD, the report says. The Government Accountability Office laid out several concerns in a new report released Thursday, including several about the maintenance costs of the aircraft model. Of the $1.7 trillion the DOD plans to invest in the F-35 planes, $1.3 trillion is "associated with operating and sustaining the aircraft."

Missing jet located: Missing F-35 jet flew for 60 miles without a pilot, who ejected into backyard after 'mishap'

Government Accountability Office: F-35 aircraft performing 'far below program goals'

What did they find? A summary of the report says the Government Accountability Office found the aircraft were performing "far below program goals."

"The F-35 fleet mission capable rate – the percentage of time the aircraft can perform one of its tasked missions –was about 55% in March 2023... in part, to challenges with depot and organizational maintenance," the summary reads. The office also details further maintenance concerns.

"At the same time, organizational-level maintenance has been affected by a number of issues, including a lack of technical data and training," the document continues.

It arrived at its conclusion by reviewing "F-35 program documentation, reviewed readiness and performance data, visited two F-35 depots and three operational installations, conducted a survey of all 15 F-35 installations, and interviewed officials," the summary reads.

What do they recommend? The Government Accountability Office is recommending the Department of Defense work on:

◾ "Reassessing F-35 sustainment elements to determine government and contractor responsibility and any required technical data," and;

◾ "Making final decisions on changes to F-35 sustainment to address performance and affordability."

The Department of Defense has reviewed and concurred with all of the recommendations, said Jeff Jurgenson, a spokesperson for the department.

Contributing: Jeanine Santucci, Vanessa Arredondo, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

Contact Kayla Jimenez at kjimenez@usatoday.com. Follow her on X, formerly Twitter, at @kaylajjimenez.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Audio call from pilot to dispatchers sheds light on missing F-35 plane