F-35B Pilot Explains Ejection To 911 Operator


CNN has obtained the 911 audio of the aftermath of the loss of a Marine Corps F-35B that flew on for 60 miles after the pilot ejected over Charleston, South Carolina, last week. The audio reveals a few more details of the incident and illustrates a knowledge gap with emergency response personnel on dealing with military aircraft crashes. The pilot starts out by asking for an ambulance but ends up giving a short course on what happens after an ejection. He did finally get his ambulance ride and was treated in a local hospital for non-life-threatening injuries.

At one point the operator asks the pilot how far he fell and he replied, “I was at 2,000 feet.” She then asked what had caused the “fall” and he replied “an aircraft malfunction.” He later explained again that he had ejected and “rode a parachute down” to his location in the backyard of a home in North Charleston. He also told the operator he didn’t know where the plane was and asked if she’d heard any reports of a plane crash in the area. It took the military about 24 hours to find the wreck of the $100 million aircraft, which was the short takeoff and vertical landing version of the fighter.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. Not the first time a fighter jet continued to fly after the pilot ejected. In 1970 a F106 pilot ejected when his plane went into a flat spin and would not recover. The plane actually managed to recover itself after the pilot ejected and landed intact in a Montana corn field. With very little damage it was recovered and fixed and returned to service. It is on display at Wright-Pat. Also happened to a MIG 23.

    • In an interesting coincidence, when the plane was repaired and returned to service, that same pilot was randomly assigned to fly it again, which he did until it was retired and sent to the Smithsonian.

  2. You can bet the Marines & Navy will soon issue a fleet directive to call their squadron before calling emergency services. If 911 is called the pilots will be given a script to stick too and not offer details surrounding a mishap to anyone outside their chain of command.

  3. While unverified, the word going around is that it was a two ship in heavy IMC when the accident aircraft lost all his screens. He had nothing to look at except lead. They were doing an approach into Charleston when lead went missed. They lost each other and he had to bail out.
    It would make a lot of sense when you consider how bad the weather was that day in SC.

    • Must mean he didn’t have enough fuel to fly to an area with better weather? Also, hard to believe a $100MM plane doesn’t have a basic independent back-up Attitude Indicator. Even my RV-6 has a Garmin G5 that will operate on it’s own battery if the entire electrical system goes down. Simply stunning.

      • Many’s the time I was glued to Lead’s wingtip in heavy IMC. If #2 lost sight of Lead, then Lead needs more training in “wingman consideration”.

  4. Of course there’s a knowledge gap. 911 operators can’t be expected to understand every sort of scenario they will ever encounter. No doubt she was asking the series of questions she was trained for, for the closest situation she understood. As for injuries, that too would be a standard question but I suppose the pilot can be forgiven for his impatient response given the stress of the situation.

  5. Got a little nauseous at the thought of how much mayhem a full size supersonic aircraft loaded with toxic chemicals [and possibly munitions] simply being discarded over central Charleston could be responsible for. Makes Trevor Jacob seem thoughtful. Did he not even have a whiskey compass and/or stability augmentation system giving him some reasonable chance of staying right side up on a heading East long enough for a chrono source to tell him when he was offshore before ejecting?

    • I know it is just fiction/drama but maybe military pilots should all watch the movie “The Great Santini” or at least the scenes involving his death.

  6. 911 operators are trained to gather as much information as possible on the incident to better prepare the emergency responders for what they may be facing as they arrive on scene. Jet pilot ejections are probably not on their list of likely scenarios. As for the pilot, it is understandable that he is anxious and somewhat agitated. After all, he wants to know that his disabled craft did not plow into a school yard or shopping center on crashing.

  7. Ain’t electronics wonderful??? I could fly an ol’ C172 with compass, ball and altimeter. (remember to break the glass if static source failed) Did it under the hood and it was scary even at that. What could a better pilot do? A lot I would hope. All we were instructed to hope for was to fly to the crash with 50-50 chance to survive.

    • Reminds me of the video I saw a couple years back with a Marine describing the landing sequence, it went something like this, “I push the button that makes the plane land and then it lands.” Hoping that they he skipped that part about how he is trained to manage contingencies.

    • No one is going to successfully fly an approach in a tactical jet without a back up artificial horizon, much less a “compass, ball and altimeter”, and you aren’t going to fly your 172 without a turn co-ordinator or needle either.

  8. Idle speculation aside, it will be interesting if investigations reveal a report of what transpired in a loss of an expensive military asset. The military men and women are part of America’s valuable assets and wonderful for the one time ejection seat operating as designed to save another pilot.

  9. An aircraft which flies on stable and unaided for nearly 60 miles and from just a 2,000 ft. altitude does not make it appear much like an emergency ejection sequence over a populated area was all that warranted in the moment. Speculatively, this fighter jock could be a desk jockey by the end-of-it, though AF pilot shortages may save his butt. Addressing the screens dark rumors, that AC could have climbed above the IMC in mere seconds, just with the ball telling him which direction was the dirt vs. sky. Scramble a tanker if needed, vectors, to clear weather, etc. …it will be VERY interesting to see what validly made it the last resort of punching out. That said, perhaps it was mostly the initial low altitude itself which could seem to create that imperative.

  10. Dynon Pocket Panel and some Velcro. Expanding on the ‘simple’ concept, I once heard that early TopGun pilots even used off the shelf automotive radar warning receivers during training flights. No idea if this is true, or if they would detect an aircraft radar signal.

  11. He should have had a $30 Apple Air Tag duct taped to the panel. They would have found the plane in 30 minutes. Probably.

  12. BS phone call – That’s not how first responders question… This is a fake event. Show me the airplane parts. I want to see a jet engine, a wing, something. He ejects at 2000 feet, and the airplane only flies 60 miles on AP…Why aren’t the trees bent over…lot of dead trees, but no bent branches or lean over trees…With today’s drones, no flew a drone to the crash site…really!!! This is a political stunt.