When this story first began going viral on social media yesterday, I didn’t jump in immediately to write anything about it. My reason, along with many others who were commenting, was that I was honestly waiting for the big reveal when we would learn that the entire thing was a hoax. It simply sounded close to impossible. A pair of pilots in F-35 Lightning II stealth combat aircraft were flying side-by-side over the Carolinas when one of the pilots encountered some sort of undisclosed anomalous event, leading him to eject from the aircraft and parachute into a residential area below. Yet his plane kept flying by itself and before long, the military announced that our F-35s are apparently so stealthy that they couldn’t even locate it. As of this morning, however, the wreckage has been found in Williamsburg County, South Carolina, and the pilot is being cared for in a local hospital and is expected to be okay. But hoo boy… there are still so many questions about this bizarre event that are begging for answers. (Associated Press)
The crash site for a stealth fighter jet that went missing during the weekend after its pilot ejected was located Monday in rural South Carolina after the military asked the public for help finding an aircraft built to elude detection.
The debris field was discovered in Williamsburg County, about two hours northeast of Joint Base Charleston. Residents were being asked to avoid the area while a recovery team worked to secure it.
“We are transferring incident command to the USMC this evening, as they begin the recovery process,” the base posted Monday on the X social media platform.
So the first of many strange aspects of the story began as soon as the pilot ejected. As noted above, the plane kept flying. And the Marines somehow lost track of its location in short order. Flightradar24 began posting plots of one of the search craft that was dispatched to look for it, and the search grid rapidly began to look like an etch-a-sketch in the hands of a drunk. Making the situation even more surreal, the Marines asked them to tell people to contact the Joint Base Charleston Operations Center “if you have seen an F-35 in the woods.”
The US military is searching for a missing F-35B in South Carolina after the pilot ejected yesterday and the jet kept flying. If you have seen an F-35 in the woods, please contact the US Marines. pic.twitter.com/rpueqxuP0J
— Flightradar24 (@flightradar24) September 18, 2023
We weren’t kidding by the way, if you’ve seen the jet or have any information, please call the Joint Base Charleston Defense Operations Center at 843-963-3600.
— Flightradar24 (@flightradar24) September 18, 2023
The Marines aren’t answering any additional questions, of course, citing the need to maintain the integrity of the ongoing investigation. That’s not satisfying anyone following the story, though. So what happened in the moments after the “anomalous event” that caused all of this? Before proceeding, I will include my usual reminder that though I spent quite a few years on aircraft carriers nosing around (older, non-stealth) fighter jets, I have never flown one. But other people who are pilots were offering some of the same questions.
With that said, the pilot executed what seemed like an awfully curious series of steps prior to exiting the aircraft. Hank Bergeron confirmed them on Twitter.
It gets worse:
– Turned on autopilot
– Turned off transponder
I suspect the pilot is going to have some serious ‘splaining to do… there may be a perfectly good explanation, but it does seem like an odd sequence of events
— Hank Bergeron (@HarrisonReardon) September 18, 2023
Who punches out of an aircraft that is still not only capable of flight but can be put into autopilot mode and continue flying? (Apparently for quite some time.) And why in the world would you shut off your transponder before exiting, whether the craft was flightworthy or not? Disabling the transponder not only makes the pilotless plane even more of a potential air safety hazard, but it clearly makes the already stealthy craft even harder to locate. That just feels as if it had to have been done intentionally.
This left some of us speculating as to whether the pilot was looking to ditch the plane, perhaps even in a place where some adversary might be able to recover it. Thankfully, that doesn’t seem to have turned out to be the case, but it’s still more than a little peculiar. One other theory (this one put forward by my wife) was that the pilot was simply an extreme version of the wacky JetBlue flight attendant who famously grabbed a beer and jumped out of his plane’s emergency exit, but nobody in his chain of command saw it coming. (Here’s to hoping that wasn’t the case this time.)
Perhaps there is a more logical explanation. If the F-35 was experiencing what appeared to be a more severe malfunction, safety protocols may have dictated a rapid exit even if the plane turned out to be able to continue flying. It seems unlikely to this layman, but I’m not the expert here. But if not, it definitely sounds as if that pilot will be answering a lot of questions during his ongoing debrief sessions. Those planes cost $80 million each and they contain some of our most advanced technology that would be invaluable to our adversaries. You don’t abandon one lightly.
Perhaps we’ll learn the answers to these questions when the investigation is complete. Then again, given the secrecy surrounding the entire program, we may never be told anything more and the incident will eventually fall down the memory hole. But it certainly spiced up an otherwise drab news cycle on Monday. While it was unfolding, the usual crew on social media was having fun with the event, including one person who quickly claimed to have not only found the jet but had put it up for sale on Craigslist. I’ll confess that I got a chuckle out of that one.
Who would’ve guessed? pic.twitter.com/49C17GK2Vq
— John Greenewald, Jr. (@blackvaultcom) September 18, 2023
#lets #talk #missingcrashed #F35