Authorities on Monday discovered a field of debris 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 Joint Marine Corps Base Charleston. The field is about two hours northeast of the base, and residents were asked to avoid the area while the recovery team worked to secure it.
Authorities had been searching for the plane since the pilot, whose name has not been released, parachuted to safety in a North Charleston neighborhood around 2 p.m. Sunday. He was taken to a hospital, where he is in stable condition, Marine Maj. Melanie Salinas said.
The Marine Corps announced Monday that it was suspending operations for two days after the fighter jet crashed — the third costly accident in recent weeks.
Gen. Eric Smith, acting commander of the Marine Corps, ordered the withdrawal while authorities searched near two South Carolina lakes for the missing FB-35B Lightning II plane.
This is the third event documented as a “Class A accident” in 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 a person dies or is permanently disabled.
Commanders will spend the suspension period reinforcing safe flying policies, practices and procedures with their Marines, according to Monday’s release.
The announcement gave no details about the two previous incidents. But in August, three U.S. Marines were killed when a V-22B Osprey tilt-rotor plane crashed during a training exercise in Australia, and a Marine Corps pilot was killed when his fighter 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 continued Monday. Exactly what happened is under investigation, he said.
Based on the location and trajectory of the missing plane, the search focused on Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion, said Senior Master Sergeant Heather Stanton of Joint Base Charleston. Both lakes are north of North Charleston.
A helicopter from the South Carolina Division of Law Enforcement joined the search after bad weather cleared in the area, Stanton said. Military officials launched an online appeal Sunday for any help from the public in locating the plane.
The pilot of a second F-35 returned safely to Joint Base Charleston, Salinas said.
The planes and pilots were part of Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing based in Beaufort, near the South Carolina coast.