Officials find debris field of F-35 fighter jet that went missing in South Carolina after a 'mishap' forced the pilot to eject
By Oren Liebermann and Nouran Salahieh, CNN
(CNN) — A debris field was found and identified Monday as the remains of an F-35 fighter jet that went missing a day earlier near Charleston, South Carolina, after its pilot ejected, according to the Marine Corps and a defense official with knowledge of the search.
The debris field is approximately two hours northeast of Joint Base Charleston. JB Charleston, which led the search, “is transferring incident command to the USMC this evening, as they begin the recovery process,” the Marine Corps said in a news release.
Members of the community were cautioned to avoid the area so the recovery team can secure the debris field and begin the recovery process.
On Sunday, the pilot ejected safely after a “mishap” involving the jet and was taken to a local medical facility in stable condition, Joint Base Charleston said in a Facebook post.
“The mishap is currently under investigation, and we are unable to provide additional details to preserve the integrity of the investigative process,” the Marines said in Monday’s statement.
The aircraft’s last known position had been near Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion, two large bodies of water northwest of the city of Charleston, according to Joint Base Charleston, which had asked for the public’s help finding the aircraft.
The jet belongs to Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501, a unit focused on training pilots to meet annual training requirements, according to the unit’s website.
Marine Corps orders flight operations pause
Following three “Class-A aviation mishaps” over the past six weeks, the Marine Corps ordered a pause in flight operations, it said in a news release.
The pause, ordered by Acting Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Eric Smith, will last two days, according to Marine Corps spokesperson Maj. Jim Stenger.
During that time, all aviation units within the service will review safe flight operations, ground safety, maintenance and flight procedures, and the maintaining of combat readiness, the release said.
The two other mishaps occurred in August.
On August 24, a Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornet combat jet crashed near San Diego, and the pilot was killed. The cause of the accident remains under investigation.
Days later, a Marine Corps MV-22B Osprey crashed during military exercises in Australia, killing three US Marines and leaving five others in serious condition. That crash also remains under investigation.
Though there is no indication of any connection between the crashes, all of the incidents are classified as Class-A mishaps by the Marine Corps, defined as an incident that leads to a fatality or more than $2.5 million in property damage.
The severity of the crashes prompted the pause in Marine aviation operations.
“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,” the Marine Corps said in a statement.
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