Bizarre 911 call released after fighter jet pilot ejects and lands in back garden: ‘I’m not sure where the plane is’

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A recording has captured the bizarre emergency call made by a US military pilot after ejecting from his jet and landing in a resident’s back garden.

The unidentified pilot was flying over Charleston, South Carolina, in an F-35 fighter jet on 17 September when he ejected due to what he described as an “aircraft failure”.

He and the resident whose garden he landed in called 911 to request an ambulance because the pilot said he had injured his back.

Both can be heard trying to explain the situation to the operator several times.

Airmen from Joint Base Charleston walk down Old Georgetown Road when setting up a base during the recovery process for an F-35 that crash landed in a field nearby in Williamsburg County, S.C., on Monday, Sept. 18, 2023. (Henry Taylor/The Post And Courier via AP)
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Airmen from Joint Base Charleston walk down Old Georgetown Road. Pic: Henry Taylor/AP

“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,” the resident said in his second attempt.

The 47-year-old pilot, who said he parachuted down from around 2,000 feet, added: “Ma’am, a military jet crashed. I’m the pilot. We need to get rescue rolling.

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

The pilot was eventually taken to hospital.

It took officials more than 24 hours to locate the jet, which had continued flying for 60 miles after the pilot ejected, until it crashed in a field in a rural part of Williamsburg County, about two hours northeast of a military base in Charleston.

Local law enforcement and military officers stand at  checkpoints along Old Georgetown Road, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023,  in Williamsburg County, S.C., about 60 miles (96 km) northeast of Joint Base Charleston  where a recovery operation for an F-35B Lightning II crash landed over the weekend. (Henry Taylor/The Post And Courier via AP)
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Local law enforcement and military officers stand at checkpoints along Old Georgetown Road, Williamsburg County. Pic: Henry Taylor/AP

Residents were being asked to avoid the area while a recovery team worked to secure it.

The Marine Corps said the jet, which is worth an estimated $100 million (£81.64 million), may have continued its flight due to a safety feature “designed to save our pilots if they are incapacitated or lose situational awareness”.

They said that 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.

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“If the jet is stable in level flight, the jet will attempt to stay there,” they said in a statement.

The marines added that it was due to good fortune that the jet avoided crashing into a densely populated area.

Footage emerged on social media of the plane flying over South Carolina before crashing – which led to questions as to why officials took so long to locate it.

The jet, the corps explained, also has features which erase the aircraft’s secure communications in case of an ejection – a feature designed to protect both the pilot’s location and the plane’s classified systems – but this may have complicated efforts to find it.

“Normally, aircraft are tracked via radar and transponder codes. Upon pilot ejection, the aircraft is designed to erase all secure communication.”

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

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

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