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‘I’m not sure where the airplane is’: Pilot tells 911 operator he has just parachuted into backyard

US authorities have released audio of a 911 call in which a US military Pilot, whose stealth fighter jet temporarily went missing, explains how  he had parachuted to the backyard of a South Carolina home.

The four-minute recording captures the bizarre circumstances after the $US100 million ($155 million) jet malfunctioned, forcing the US marine to eject from the aircraft and land in a South Carolina backyard. 

In the audio, a North Charleston resident is heard explaining a pilot had just parachuted into his backyard, with the pilot saying he did not know what became of his F-35 jet.

The pilot, who said he was 47, reported feeling “OK” after falling what he estimated was 2,000 feet (about 600 metres). 

Only his back hurt, he told the dispatcher.

“Ma’am, a military jet crashed. I’m the pilot. We need to get rescue rolling,” the pilot said.

“I’m not sure where the airplane is. It would have crash landed somewhere. I ejected.”

Meanwhile, the resident calmly asks the clearly puzzled dispatcher for an ambulance. 

Resident: I guess we got a pilot at our house and he says he got ejected, he ejected from the plane, so would you see if we could get an ambulance please?

911 Dispatcher: I’m sorry what happened?

Resident: We got a pilot in the house, and I guess he landed in my backyard, and we’re trying to see if we could get an ambulance to the house, please.

Later in the call, the pilot makes another plea for medical help.

“Ma’am, I’m a pilot in a military aircraft, and I ejected. So I just rode a parachute down to the ground. Can you please send an ambulance?” he said.

The US Marine Corps pilot safely ejected from the F-35 Lightning II over North Charleston. (AP Photo: Michel Euler/FIle)

The Marines have described the pilot as an experienced aviator with decades of experience in the cockpit.

The fighter jet, which the Marine Corps said was at an altitude of only about 300 metres, kept flying for 100 kilometres until it crashed in a rural area near Indiantown.

It took more than a day to locate the wreckage.

Questions over how the jet went missing

The Marine Corps said on Thursday a feature on fighter jets, intended to protect pilots in emergencies, could explain how the F-35 managed to continue its travels.

They said while it was unclear why the jet kept flying, flight control software would have worked to keep it steady if there were no longer a pilot’s hands on the controls.

“If the jet is stable in level flight, the jet will attempt to stay there. If it was in an established climb or descent, the jet will maintain a 1G state in that climb or descent until commanded to do something else,” the Marine Corps said in a statement.

“This is designed to save our pilots if they are incapacitated or lose situational awareness.”

Other questions about the crash remained, notably why the plane wasn’t tracked as it continued flying over South Carolina.

Many also questioned how it could take more than a day to find a massive fighter jet that had flown over populated, although rural, areas.

The Marines said features that erase a jet’s secure communications in case of an ejection — a feature designed to protect both the pilot’s location and the plane’s classified systems — may also have complicated efforts to find it.

Airmen from Joint Base Charleston walk down Old Georgetown Road when setting up a base during the recovery process.(AP: Henry Taylor/The Post And Courier)

“Normally, aircraft are tracked via radar and transponder codes,” the Marines said.

“Upon pilot ejection, the aircraft is designed to erase [or ‘zeroize’] all secure communication.”

The plane would have kept broadcasting an identifier on an open channel to identify itself as friend or foe — but factors like how powerful its radar was, the weather at the time, and the terrain — could have affected its signal, the Marines said.

They said thunderstorms and low cloud ceilings further hampered the search for the plane.

Pilots exit a Florence County Sheriff’s Office helicopter after locating the position of a stealth fighter jet that crash-landed.(AP: Henry Taylor/The Post And Courier)

“When coupled with the F-35’s stealth capabilities, tracking the jet had to be done through non-traditional means,” the service said in its statement.

The incident is still under investigation and results from an official review board could take months.

However, the Marines said the feature that kept the plane flying may not only have saved the life of the pilot but of others on the ground.

“The other bit of silver lining in this case is that through the F-35 flying away it avoided crashing into a densely populated area surrounding the airport, and fortunately crashed into an empty field and forested area,” the statement said.


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‘I’m not sure where the airplane is’: Pilot tells 911 operator he has just parachuted into backyard


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