The US military on Monday said it found what it believes to be the debris of a missing $160 million F-35 fighter jet, after a pilot ejected from the aircraft because of a “mishap”.
The F-35B Lightning II jet went missing over South Carolina on Sunday afternoon, a social media post from Joint Base Charleston said.
The pilot ejected safely and was taken to a nearby hospital in stable condition. It was unclear what led to the pilot ejecting from the aircraft.
The Joint Base posted on social platforms on Monday evening that a debris field was found in rural South Carolina, two hours from its Charleston base.
"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 said.
A representative for Joint Base Charleston told NBC News it was possible that the F-35 could still have been airborne for a long time because it was in autopilot mode when the pilot ejected.
Search teams focused on efforts in Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion, north of the base, the representative said.
“The public is asked to co-operate with military and civilian authorities as the effort continues.”
People with information that could assist in the recovery were urged to call Joint Base Charleston's defence operations centre.
Made by Lockheed Martin, F-35 jets are known for their stealth capabilities. Lockeed Martin has described F-35 jets as “the most lethal, survivable and connected fighter jet in the world”.
The US's F-35 programme is estimated to have cost $400 billion in development, and $1.2 trillion to operate and maintain the fleet over more than 60 years, making it the country's most expensive weapons programme.
It costs more than $160 million to make each jet.
Bloomberg contributed to this report