Smith orders aviation pause after third aircraft 'mishap'

By Linda Hersey / September 19, 2023 at 10:40 AM

Acting Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Eric Smith ordered a two-day standdown of aviation operations Monday following an F-35B Lightning II "Class-A mishap" over South Carolina.

The accident was the third aviation incident since August involving the Marine Corps.

The Pentagon issued a statement Monday announcing that Marine Corps aviation operations were grounded for two days as the service reinforced safety fundamentals and best practices.

“During the standdown, 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,” according to the Pentagon statement, posted to the Marine Corps website.

The Marine Corps, meanwhile, was investigating a debris field north of Charleston, after the pilot safely ejected from the stealth fighter jet Sunday night.

“Personnel from Joint Base Charleston and Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, in close coordination with local authorities, have located a debris field in Williamsburg County. The debris was discovered two hours northeast of Joint Base Charleston,” according to a Joint Base Charleston Facebook post.

The debris site was discovered Monday following a search for several hours, as the plane had continued its programmed flight path after the pilot ejected.

“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,” according to the Facebook post.

The Pentagon’s statement Monday on the aviation pause noted two other recent Class-A aviation mishaps.

On Aug. 24, an F/A-18D Hornet crashed in southern California during a training flight, killing the pilot. The crash occurred on remote government property east of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.

An MV-22B Osprey crashed days later, on Aug. 27, off the Australian coast during a transport training exercise. The accident killed three Marines on board the tiltrotor aircraft. Five others were hospitalized in serious condition.

The standdown announced Monday is to ensure “operational standardization of combat-ready aircraft with well-prepared pilots and crews,” the Pentagon said.

The statement continued: “This standdown invests time and energy in reinforcing the Marine aviation community’s established policies, practices and procedures and ensures Marine Corps remains a ready and highly trained fighting force.”