Crashed F-35B Found in Rural South Carolina, Marines Order Aviation Safety Standdown

September 18, 2023 3:44 PM
Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron (VMFAT) 501, Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 31, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW), takes off during an airshow demonstration practice at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina, Aug. 21, 2023. US Marine Corps Photo

Marine aviation is taking a two-day safety break as the service found a crashed F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter that went missing on Sunday, the service announced today.

Acting commandant Gen. Eric Smith called for the aviation safety standdown to discuss safety processes after three major aviation incidents in 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. This stand down [is] being taken to ensure the service is maintaining operational standardization of combat-ready aircraft with well-prepared pilots and crews,” reads the Monday afternoon statement.

“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 standdown follows the F-35 incident on Sunday, an August MV-22B Osprey crash in Darwin that killed three Marines and a F/A-18D Hornet crash that killed a Marine pilot.

  • On Aug. 24, Maj. Andrew Mettler was killed piloting a F/A-18D Hornet in a crash during a training flight originating from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif.
  • On Aug. 27, Maj. Tobin Lewis, Capt. Eleanor LeBeau and Cpl. Spencer Collart were killed when their MV-22B crashed on Melville Island off the coast of northern Australia. Five other Marines were hospitalized.

The service ordered a similar standdown in 2022 following crashes that year.

The announcement comes as Marines and federal officials found a missing F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter that crashed over South Carolina on Sunday in Williamsburg County.

“The debris was discovered two hours northeast of Joint Base Charleston,” reads a statement from Joint Base Charleston, S.C.
“Teams from Joint Base Charleston, Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing out of MCAS Cherry Point, Navy Region Southeast, the FAA, the Civil Air Patrol, as well as local, county, and state law enforcement across South Carolina have been working together to locate the U.S. Marine Corps F-35B.”

The single-seat fighter assigned to “The Warlords” of Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron (VMFAT) 501 went down north of Charleston, S.C., after taking off from nearby Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. The pilot safely ejected from the fighter and was taken to a nearby hospital.

The search for the fighter was focused on Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion, about 50 miles north of Charleston, according to a statement from Joint Base Charleston on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter. Eventually, the fighter was discovered further north from the initial search site.

Agencies that participated in the search included local law enforcement, the FAA, the 2nd Marine Air Wing, Navy Region South East and the Civil Air Patrol.

The Marines have not released any additional information on the cause of the incident.

“The mishap is currently under investigation,” reads a statement from the service.

Former Lockheed Martin F-35 test pilot Billie Flynn told USNI News on Monday it was always unlikely that the aircraft flew long after the pilot ejected. If the airplane was in as much trouble to require the pilot to eject, then the fighter was doomed to crash, he said.

“That aircraft isn’t going to fly much further,” he said.

In 2018, an F-35B from VMFAT-501 crashed in South Carolina due to an engine defect that was later repaired across the class.

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services since 2009 and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.
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