The pilot who ejected from a $100 million F-35 fighter jet claimed he lost the plane to the weather – and likely ejected before he could activate the tracking system, sources and experts said.
“He’s not sure where his plane crashed, said he just lost it to the weather,” a voice from the pilot can be heard saying in a Charleston County Emergency Medical Services call posted Tuesday by a meteorologist.
The unidentified pilot landed in a residential neighborhood in north Charleston and was taken to a local hospital for treatment.
He has since been released.
Military officials have not yet given a specific reason for the pilot’s hasty departure, only pointing out that the incident was due to a “malfunction.”
Longtime military aviation expert and consultant Richard Aboulafia told The Post that the pilot likely piloted the stealth fighter without tracking capabilities activated — and ejected before he was able to.
“If you turned on the onboard device, it would be easy to track,” he said. “But this is a stealth aircraft. If you don’t turn on the device in question, it will be difficult to make contact. Most likely he or she didn’t have much time to react.”
Military officials were forced to ask the public for help in finding the plane through a post on Facebook.
“This is unusual,” Aboulafia said of this attempt. “But what’s the harm? The on-board device is not switched on and is not being tracked. So it makes sense that they would seek help from people in the area who may have seen a jet heading their way.”
The plane eventually crashed into a wooded area in South Carolina, about 60 miles from where the pilot parachuted down.
State law enforcement officials said they formally identified the plane on Monday and have since closed a roughly mile-long stretch of road in Williamsburg County.
Residents in the rural area said they heard a deafening screech before a huge boom shook their homes.
According to a report, the jet is part of the US Department of Defense’s most expensive weapons system program US Government Accountability Office May 2023 report.
The agency is considering modernizing the aircraft engine.
Aboulafia said that while the high-tech model may have its problems, it is still considered the best fighter jet in the world and is coveted by a long list of governments.
“I understand the frustration with delays, cost overruns, whatever,” he said. “But the fact is they can’t produce them fast enough to meet demand. And that’s the bottom line.”
With post wires