U.S. Military Officials Find Debris Field During Search for Missing $80M Stealth Fighter Jet

After asking the public for help in finding the F-35 jet, U.S. military officials said they found a debris field

<p>BO AMSTRUP/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty</p> An US F-35 fighter jet pictured during an event of the US Air Force in Denmark

BO AMSTRUP/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty

An US F-35 fighter jet pictured during an event of the US Air Force in Denmark

U.S. military officials in South Carolina found debris in their search for a missing $80 million stealth fighter jet. The aircraft went missing Sunday after its pilot ejected.

On Monday, Joint Base Charleston confirmed in multiple social media posts that personnel from the air base and Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort located the debris field in Williamsburg County.

The debris was identified as the remains of the F-35B fighter jet, the Marine Corps and a defense official told CNN.

“Members of the community should avoid the area as the recovery team secures the debris field," Joint Base Charleston's statement read. “JB Charleston is transferring incident command to the USMC this evening, as they begin the recovery process.”

The "mishap" is still under investigation, the statement continued, adding that officials "are unable to provide additional details to preserve the integrity of the investigative process."

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Prior to the recent discovery, the JB Charleston called upon the public to help search for the missing jet. This left both the community and public officials questioning what occurred.

"How in the hell do you lose an F-35?" U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina wrote on X (formerly known as Twitter) Sunday. "How is there not a tracking device and we’re asking the public to what, find a jet and turn it in?"

Before the debris was discovered, base spokesperson Jeremy Huggins told the Washington Post that the F-35’s transponder was not functional. Additionally, the jet’s stealth technology hides the aircraft from radar detection, which complicates the search for the missing equipment.

"The aircraft is stealth, so it has different coatings and different designs that make it more difficult than a normal aircraft to detect," Higgins told the Post.

Following the incident, the base reported the F-35 aircraft’s "last-known position" was "north of JB Charleston, around Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion."

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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 and local South Carolina authorities all joined in on the search, according to Joint Base Charleston officials.

"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," the statement read.

Late Monday, Gen. Eric M. Smith, the Acting Commandant of the Marine Corps, directed all Marine Aviation units to stop all operations for two days, the Marine Corps said in a news release. The decision follows the "mishap" in South Carolina, as well as two other mishaps in August.

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"During the stand down, aviation commanders will lead discussions with their Marines focusing on the fundamentals of safe flight operations, ground safety, maintenance and flight procedures, and maintaining combat readiness," the Marine Corps' statement reads. "This stand down is being taken to ensure the service is maintaining operational standardization of combat-ready aircraft with well-prepared pilots and crews."

"This stand down invests time and energy in reinforcing the Marine aviation community’s established policies, practices and procedures and ensures Marine Corps remains a ready and highly-trained fighting force," the statement concluded.

A spokesperson for Joint Base Charleston did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for additional information on Monday.

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