Debris field found in search for F-35 jet in Williamsburg County
WILLIAMSBURG COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - Joint Base Charleston confirmed Monday night that a debris field found is now believed to be the site of an F-35 crash two hours northeast of the base.
Williamsburg County Sheriff’s Office Spokesperson Jalisa Brown said deputies were assisting with traffic control in the area of Old Georgetown Road. Brown said wreckage from the plane was located in a wooded area near there and an “extensive debris field exists.”
The base did not provide a specific area within Williamsburg County where the debris field was spotted, but asked members of the community to avoid the area as the recovery team secured the debris field.
Joint Base Charleston said it was transferring incident command to the U.S. Marine Corps as they begin the recovery process.
As part of the recovery process, roughly a mile of Old Georgetown Road will be closed while teams work to secure the debris.
Williamsburg County deputies have provided a list of detours to get around the closure:
Traffic traveling north on Old Georgetown Road should turn right on Midway Road, left on Baptist Road, left on Bartells Road and right on Old Georgetown Road.
Southbound traffic should turn left on Bartells Road, right on Baptist Road, right on Midway Road and left on Old Georgetown Road.
Florence County Sheriff T.J. Joye could not provide information on exactly where the parts were found, but Bartells Road in Indiantown, which is near Hemingway, is blocked off, WMBF reported.
Teams from Joint Base Charleston, Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing out of MCAS Cherry Point, Navy Region Southeast, the FAA, the Civil Air Patrol, as well as local, county, and state law enforcement across South Carolina, have been working together to locate the U.S. Marine Corps F-35B.
Joint Base Charleston said search teams used both ground and air assets to find the expensive piece of military equipment.
The search began after a pilot ejected from the aircraft after what the base described as a “mishap.”
“The mishap is currently under investigation, and we are unable to provide additional details to preserve the integrity of the investigative process,” a release from Joint Base Charleston stated.
It was not immediately known whether anyone was injured or whether any structures were damaged when the plane went down.
Mace criticizes lack of information, transparency
Earlier Monday afternoon, U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace expressed frustration at a lack of answers after she was briefed on the search for the missing jet.
“They didn’t have any answers. They don’t know if they the plane is in the air or under the water,” she said. “They could not tell me the precise location of where the pilot ejected or where the pilot landed.”
The incident involved a Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort F-35B Lightning II jet from Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 with the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, according to public affairs specialist Jeremy Huggins. Huggins says the pilot was safely ejected and taken to a hospital where they are in stable condition.
Mace, who represents the First Congressional District, said she asked for a separate briefing with people who would be able to provide answers, adding that she has received “a lot of phone calls” from local leaders who she says are “frustrated with the lack of transparency and the lack of information.”
“And we’re talking about an $80 million jet. How does it just disappear? And how does the Pentagon ask for the public’s help in finding it?” she said. “It’s just a huge embarrassment.”
Mace characterized the ongoing search and the lack of information as “a local emergency” and a “public safety issue.”
“Now if the plane was flying over the water and crashed in the water, then obviously not a public safety issue, but the problem is, the $80 million question is, where is it, and if the beacon or transponder device within an $80 million brand new jet doesn’t work, what else doesn’t work and how much money has been invested into this program to see a jet like this fail for whatever reason.”
Multiple agencies involved in search
Florence County Sheriff T.J. Joye said his agency is also getting involved in the search for the missing aircraft. Joye said some of his deputies were at a fire training facility in the Lake City area, but additional details weren’t immediately available.
The Charleston County Sheriff’s Office has confirmed its marine patrol is on standby as the search for a missing F-35 jet continues. Sheriff’s spokesman Amber Allen said the marine patrol unit would be ready if the military asks for assistance.
“Charleston County residents: If you locate any portion of the aircraft, DO NOT touch, DO NOT move it,” the agency said on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “Alert authorities immediately: 843-963-3600.”
Joint Base Charleston also said they are working with the Marine Corps and the Federal Aviation Administration to find the F-35 that was involved. They say the focus is north of the joint base, around Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office called the F-35 program the Department of Defense’s “most expensive weapon system program.”
The estimated cost for the program is nearly $1.7 trillion for the aircraft and systems.
The GAO says the program is more than 10 years behind schedule and $183 billion over original cost estimates.
This isn’t the first incident involving a Beaufort-based F-35. In September 2018, an F-35B crashed near Little Barnwell Island. The pilot was able to safely eject from that aircraft as well. The GAO determined the cause of that crash was a manufacturing defect in an engine fuel tube that caused it to rupture during flight resulting in the loss of power to the engine.
The first F-35s were brought to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in August 2013. The Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 was relocated from Elgin Air Force Base in Florida to Beaufort.
The base opened a new $79 million hangar for the aircraft in July 2022.
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