A Marine Corps pilot safely ejected from an F-35 Lightning II over North Charleston, South Carolina. The search for his missing aircraft was focused on two lakes north of North Charleston, military officials said. Photo / AP
All US Marine Corps aviation units are pausing operations for two days after a fighter jet’s apparent crash over the weekend marked the third costly accident in recent weeks.
General Eric Smith, the acting commandant of the Marine Corps, ordered the stand-down on Monday while authorities searched near two South Carolina lakes for the missing FB-35B Lightning II aircraft.
The pilot, whose name hasn’t been released, parachuted to safety into a North Charleston neighbourhood about 2pm on Sunday. He was taken to a hospital where he was in stable condition, Marines Major Melanie Salinas said on Sunday.
It’s the third event documented as a Class-A mishap over the past six weeks, according to a Marine Corps announcement. Such incidents occur when damages reach US$2.5 million ($4.2m) or more, a Department of Defence aircraft is destroyed, or someone dies or is permanently disabled.
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Commanders will spend the stand-down reinforcing safe flying policies, practices and procedures with their Marines, according to the Monday release.
The announcement gave no details on the two previous incidents. But in August, three US Marines were killed in the crash of a V-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft during a training exercise in Australia, and a Marine Corps pilot was killed when his combat jet crashed near a San Diego base during a training flight.
Corporal Christian Cortez, a Marine with the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, said the search for the fighter jet in South Carolina was ongoing on Monday. Exactly what happened was under investigation, he said.
Based on the missing plane’s location and trajectory, the search was focused on Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion, said Senior Master Sergeant Heather Stanton at Joint Base Charleston. Both lakes are north of North Charleston.
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A South Carolina Law Enforcement Division helicopter joined the search after bad weather cleared in the area, Stanton said. Military officials appealed in online posts for any help from the public in locating the aircraft.
The pilot of a second F-35 returned safely to Joint Base Charleston, Salinas said.
The planes and pilots were with the Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 with the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing based in Beaufort, near the South Carolina coast.
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