Missing USMC F-35B debris field has finally been found

The wreckage of the missing F-35B stealth fighter that went missing on Sunday has finally been found a couple of hours away from Joint Base Charleston.
Christopher McFadden
Authorities have finally found the missing F-35B.


The debris field from a missing United States Marine Corps (USCMC) Lockheed Martin F-35B "Lightning II" stealth fighter has finally been found, authorities have reported. This brings to a close the whereabouts of the missing fighter that went missing on Sunday (17th September 2023) after flying uncrewed after the pilot was forced to eject shortly after takeoff. The debris was discovered about two hours northeast of Joint Base Charleston, but no further details are currently forthcoming.

Missing F-35B found 

As widely reported yesterday, the pilot landed safely on the ground and was said to be in stable condition following the incident. The fighter, however, proved a lot harder to locate because its stealth capabilities made searching for it very difficult. The aircraft belonged to the USMC 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, one of its training squadrons.

“The mishap is currently under investigation.” Captain Joe Leitner, the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing spokesperson, said. According to Joint Base Charleston's spokesman Jeremy Huggins, the aircraft was on autopilot when the pilot ejected and likely remained airborne for a short time afterward. The public has still not been made aware of what caused the pilot to eject, and the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) is currently not responding to requests for comment while they investigate the incident.

In a statement, Joint Base Charleston stated that it collaborated with Navy and Marine units and the FAA, Civil Air Patrol, and local law enforcement agencies across South Carolina.

“JB Charleston is transferring incident command to the USMC this evening, as they begin the recovery process. The mishap is currently under investigation, and we are unable to provide additional details to preserve the integrity of the investigative process,” the base said in a release. “We would like to thank all of our mission partners, as well as local, county, and state authorities, for their dedication and support throughout the search and as we transition to the recovery phase," it added.

During the search, JJ Gertler, a senior analyst at the Teal Group, shared with Breaking Defense via email that even if the F-35 could fly on autopilot, it would likely be limited by fuel and physics, preventing it from traveling too far. Gertler explained that the loss of the aircraft's canopy and potential damage to its aerodynamics during the pilot's escape could pose a problem. Furthermore, the rocket motors used to eject the pilot from the aircraft may have caused damage to the cockpit electronics.

Couldn't've gone far

According to the Washington Post, the transponder on the aircraft was not functioning, which made the search more difficult. Gertler noted that if the pilot was ejected shortly after takeoff, the transponder signal should have been detectable even at low altitudes, but it may have stopped after the ejection. The discovery of the wrecked aircraft raises more questions than answers, and Lockheed Martin has acknowledged it is aware of the situation. The company will provide any assistance needed during the inevitable investigation.