The acting commandant of the Marine Corps on Monday ordered a two-day “safety stand down” for all aviation units this week as the search continued for an advanced F-35 Lightning II jet fighter that crashed near Charleston, S.C. on a training run.
Gen. Eric M. Smith noted that there have been three serious aviation mishaps involving Marine Corps aircraft over the last six weeks.
“During the safety stand-down, aviation commanders will lead discussions with their Marines focusing on the fundamentals of safe flight operations, ground safety, maintenance, and flight procedures, and maintaining combat readiness,” the Marine Corps said in a statement.
The F-35 was assigned to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, about 65 miles southwest of Charleston. The pilot, who has not been identified, safely ejected after what the Air Force described as a “mishap” with the jet fighter. So far, no trace of the plane itself has been recovered.
The Air Force’s Joint Base Charleston is the military base closest to the expected crash site.
“We are focusing our attention north of [the base],” in the vicinity of Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion, the Air Force said in a statement.
Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion are large, man-made lakes created in the 1940s to provide electricity to rural South Carolina residents. Lake Marion has a shoreline more than 315 miles long, and Lake Moultrie’s shoreline is about 210 miles, state officials said.
Rep. Nancy Mace has sharply criticized the Marine Corps over the missing F-35 jet. The South Carolina Republican’s district covers much of the area where the search is taking place.
“How the hell do you lose an F-35? How is there not a tracking device,” Ms. Mace said on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter. “We’re asking the public to — what — find a jet and turn it in?”
She said the Marine Corps has not been forthcoming with her office about the missing $100 million jet. After asking for a briefing about the search effort, Ms. Mace said the Marines provided her with one of the shortest meetings she’s ever attended.
“No one [the USMC] sent over to brief me and my staff had any answers. Shocker,” Ms. Mace wrote on X.
The military aviation website Avgeekery.com said radio chatter indicated that the F-35 pilot ejected at just a few thousand feet above the ground. The last radar contact occurred northeast of Lake Moultrie. The pilot later showed up in the backyard of a residential neighborhood in the North Charleston area, according to Avgeekery.com.
Marine Corps pilot Major Andrew Mettler was killed on August 25, 2023, when his F/A-18D Hornet crashed near Marine Corps Air Station Miramar outside San Diego, California. And on Aug. 28, 2023, three Marines were killed in the fiery crash of their V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft. The incident happened during a multinational training exercise in Australia.
The investigation is continuing for both fatal aircraft crashes.
On Monday, the Marine Corps said the two-day pause in flying missions is being taken to ensure they are continuing to maintain combat-ready aircraft with well-prepared pilots and crew members.
“This pause invests time and energy in reinforcing the Marine aviation community’s established policies, practices and procedures in the interests of public safety, protecting our Marines and sailors, and ensuring the Marine Corps remains a ready and highly-trained fighting force,” Marine Corps officials said.