Missing F-35 Fighter Jet Debris Found Near Charleston; Marine Corps Pauses Flight Operations

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On Monday, the debris field discovered in the vicinity of Charleston, South Carolina, was identified as remnants of an F-35 fighter jet reported missing a day earlier. The marine pilot had safely ejected and was transported to a local medical facility in stable condition after an unspecified mishap, as per the US Marine Corps and a defense official privy to the search operation details.

The debris site, lying approximately two hours northeast of Joint Base Charleston (JB Charleston), is under investigation under the leadership of the USMC, which has taken over command of the incident. As the recovery process began, the community was advised to steer clear of the area enabling the recovery team to secure the field undisturbed.

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Details surrounding the jet mishap stay unclear as it remains under ongoing investigation. In a statement, the Marines announced their inability to share further specifics to maintain the integrity of the process.

The last recorded location of the aircraft was near Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion, two expansive water bodies northwest of Charleston. The public’s assistance in locating the aircraft was solicited by JB Charleston.

Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501, a unit dedicated to the annual training of pilots, houses the lost fighter jet, as stated on the unit’s website.

Given the occurrence of three “Class-A aviation mishaps” within the past six weeks, a hold on flight operations has been instituted by the Marine Corps, as revealed in a recent news statement. Under the directive of Gen. Eric Smith, the Acting Commandant of the Marine Corps, the pause will span two days, during which all aviation units will undertake a review of safe flight operations, ground safety strategies, maintenance, flight procedures, and combat readiness.

The two preceding Class-A mishaps transpired in August. On August 24, a crash involving a Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornet combat jet near San Diego led to the pilot’s fatality; the cause is still under probing. Days subsequent, a Marine Corps MV-22B Osprey crashed amid military exercises in Australia, resulting in the loss of three US Marines and leaving five others with severe injuries. This incident, too, is yet to be decoded.

While there seems to be no apparent link between these accidents, the Marine Corps classified all incidents as Class-A mishaps, indicative of fatalities or property damage exceeding $2.5 million.

Due to the severity of the crashes, a halt in Marine aviation operations has been mandated. In a statement, the Marine Corps explained the pause as an investment in the strengthening of established policies, practices, and procedures within the Marine aviation community, essentially to safeguard public safety and protect Marines and sailors while maintaining the readiness of the Marine Corps as a highly trained fighting force.