NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Authorities found a debris field Monday from a Marine Corps F-35 stealth fighter jet that crashed in South Carolina after the pilot ejected and parachuted to safety.
The debris field was located in rural Williamsburg County, according to the Marine Corps’ Joint Base Charleston. The field is about two hours northeast of the base, and residents were being asked to avoid the area while the recovery team worked to secure it.
Authorities had been searching for the jet since the pilot, whose name hasn’t been released, parachuted to safety into a North Charleston neighborhood about 2 p.m. Sunday. He was taken to a hospital, where he was in stable condition, Marines Maj. Melanie Salinas said.
The Marine Corps announced Monday it was pausing operations for two days after the fighter jet’s crash — the third costly accident in recent weeks.
Gen. Eric Smith, the acting commandant of the Marine Corps, ordered the stand-down while authorities searched near two South Carolina lakes for the missing FB-35B Lightning II aircraft.
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 $2.5 million or more, a Department of Defense aircraft is destroyed, or someone dies or is permanently disabled.
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 U.S. 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.
Cpl. Christian Cortez, a Marine with the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, said the search for the fighter jet in South Carolina was ongoing 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 Sgt. Heather Stanton at Joint Base Charleston. Both lakes are north of North Charleston.
A South Carolina Law Enforcement Division helicopter joined the search after some bad weather cleared in the area, Stanton said. Military officials appealed in online posts Sunday 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.