US Air Force pilot told 911 call handler ‘I don’t know where my plane is’ after ejecting

An F-35A Lockheed Martin fighter jet  (via REUTERS)
An F-35A Lockheed Martin fighter jet (via REUTERS)

A US airforce pilot who ejected from his fighter jet before it crashed told an emergency call handler he was “not sure where the airplane is”.

Audio from his 911 call has been released with the four-minute recording featuring the pilot and a bemused resident of North Charleston, South Carolina, whose backyard he landed in.

The householder can be heard telling the emergency despatcher: “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 pilot, who said he was 47, reported feeling "OK" after falling what he estimated was 2,000 feet.

Only his back hurt, he said, before adding: “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.”

An F-35A Lockheed Martin fighter jet (via REUTERS)
An F-35A Lockheed Martin fighter jet (via REUTERS)

The F-35 jet crashed on Sunday after a malfunction prompted the pilot to eject over Charleston and land in the residential backyard not far from Charleston International Airport.

The fighter jet, which the Marine Corps said was at an altitude of only about 1,000 feet, kept flying for 60 miles until it crashed in a rural area near Indiantown. It took more than a day to find the wreckage.

The Marine Corps said 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."

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.

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

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 good news is it appeared to work as advertised. 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.