On a newly released 911 audio recording, the pilot who ejected from the F-35 fighter jet that went missing last weekend is heard requesting an ambulance from a South Carolina home. In the four-minute-long recording, the homeowner is heard telling the 911 dispatcher that the pilot parachuted into his backyard and needed help.
“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 homeowner said in the call, shared by NBC News. The pilot is then heard on the call, telling the dispatcher: “Ma’am, a military jet crashed. I’m the pilot. We need to get the rescue rolling. I’m not sure where the airplane is. It would have crash-landed somewhere. I ejected.”
The call came after the pilot, who was flying an F-35 Lightning II fighter jet, ejected from the aircraft due to a “mishap” on board, parachuting 2,000 feet to the ground.
The dispatcher asked what caused the fall after the pilot was heard telling her it was a jet crash. He responded that it was an “aircraft failure,” and after the dispatcher continued asking questions, the pilot once again told her: “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?”
The pilot also said in the recording that he was feeling “okay,” but his “back hurts a little bit,” and was later transported to a local hospital where he is reportedly in stable condition.
Joint Base Charleston was conducting training in South Carolina when the incident occurred, representatives said in a Facebook post on Sunday. The base said the jet was missing and it was working alongside the U.S. Marine Corps to locate the aircraft. After the pilot ejected, the F-35 reportedly flew for another 60 miles, USA Today reported. Debris was located as far as 80 miles north of the base in Indiantown, South Carolina on Monday.
The Marine Corps told AP News it is unclear why the F-35 jet continued to fly after the pilot ejected, but said the flight control software was designed to keep it steady, even if the pilot’s hands were no longer on the control system. “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 told AP. “This is designed to save our pilots if they are incapacitated or lose situational awareness.”
The 911 recording comes as the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report saying the F-35 fighter jets are not operational due to a lack of technical data and maintenance issues that prevent specific repairs. “These challenges include insufficient and unavailable technical data (including part numbers), spare parts, support equipment, and training for maintainers,” the report said. It urged the Department of Defense to assess the future sustainment strategy designed for the F-35 Lightning II fighter jets ahead of its planned $1.7 trillion spending on 2,500 jets.
An investigation into the cause of the F-35 fighter jet crash is still underway, and USMC Captain Joe Leitner said in an email to Gizmodo: “The Department of the Navy has a well-defined process for investigating aircraft mishaps.” He added: “We are unable to provide additional details to preserve the integrity of the investigatory process.”
Gizmodo also contacted Joint Base Charleston, the U.S. Air Force, and the Department of Defense for additional information.