The saga has ended and debris found. And no, the missing F-35B did not crash in water.
Officials have eventually managed to locate debris from the missing F-35B in a field in Williamsburg County, in South Carolina. The discovery occurred after the U.S. military, that hadn’t be able to locate the crash site following the ejection of the pilot at 15,000 feet in bad weather, had launched a massive search operation involving also several aircraft and also asked for the public’s help finding the aircraft.
Personnel from Joint Base Charleston and @MCASBeaufortSC, in close coordination with local authorities, have located a debris field in Williamsburg County. The debris was discovered two hours northeast of JB Charleston.
— Joint Base Charleston (@TeamCharleston) September 18, 2023
The pilot ejected safely at about 15,000ft from an F-35B Lighting II jet belonging to Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 (VMFAT-501) with the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing based at MCAS (Marine Corps Air Station) Beaufort, South Carolina, in the afternoon on Sept. 17, 2023.
The aircraft was an autopilot when the pilot ejected and had the transponder turned off, making the search quite complex, for reasons that we have explained in more details here. The aircraft’s last known position had been near Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion, two large bodies of water northwest of the city of Charleston, where most of the search activities initially focused. However, the aircraft had eventually crashed in a field many miles to the east of the lakes.
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Safety stand down
While the investigation will determine the reason for the crash, the U.S. Marine Corps ordered safety stand down, the service said in a news release.
Following three Class-A aviation mishaps over the last six weeks, Acting Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Eric M. Smith, directed all Marine Corps aviation units to conduct a two-day stand down in operations this week to discuss aviation safety matters and best practices.
During the 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.
This stand down 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.
The other two class A mishaps mentioned in the public release are the loss of an F/A-18 Hornet near San Diego on Aug. 24, 2023, that killed a pilot, and the Aug. 26 crash of an MV-22B Osprey that crashed in Australia, killing three Marines and leaving five others in serious condition.