US military finds debris field in search for missing $80m stealth jet

The debris was located in rural Williamsburg County
The debris was located in rural Williamsburg County

US authorities searching for a missing F-35 stealth fighter jet have found a debris field in South Carolina.

The debris was located in rural Williamsburg County, close to where the pilot ejected and parachuted to safety on Sunday.

The field is about two hours northeast of Marine Corps’ Joint Base Charleston and residents were being asked to avoid the area while the recovery team worked to secure it.

Officials had asked the public for sightings of the $80 million (£65 million) F-35 Lightning II after it was lost when the pilot ejected during a “mishap” over South Carolina.

The pilot parachuted into a neighbourhood in North Charleston and was taken to a medical centre.

As the Marine Corps scrambled to find the jet, acting commandant Eric Smith issued a two-day stand-down for all aviation units both inside and outside the US, a spokesman told ABC News.

Mr Smith reportedly said in an internal email that a two-day discussion about safety must take place before units are permitted to fly is the “right and prudent” thing to do.

The search was made more difficult because the jet’s transponder was not working “for some reason that we haven’t yet determined”, Jeremy Huggins, a spokesman at Joint Base Charleston told The Washington Post.

“So that’s why we put out the public request for help.”

Senior Master Sgt Heather Stanton said a police helicopter joined the search which was focused on Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion.

Officials are still investigating why the pilot ejected, authorities said.

Nancy Mace, a congresswoman for South Carolina, asked: “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?”

Mr Huggins said: “The aircraft is stealth, so it has different coatings and different designs that make it more difficult than a normal aircraft to detect.”

The pilot of a second F-35 returned safely to base.

The planes, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, and pilots were with the Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 based in Beaufort, South Carolina.

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