Updated Sep 19, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Marine Corps grounds planes after debris from missing U.S. fighter jet found

An F-35B Lightning II launches aboard the USS Essex in preparation for the F-35B's first combat strike in 2018. Photo: Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Matthew Freeman/U.S. Navy via Getty Images

The head of the U.S. Marine Corps has ordered a two-day aviation stand-down after crews on Monday located a "debris field" in South Carolina linked to a stealth fighter jet that went missing in a "mishap" over the weekend.

Driving the news: The order follows two other major aviation mishaps in recent weeks, Gen. Eric M. Smith, acting commandant of the Marine Corps, said in a statement Monday evening.

  • Smith said leaders would use the stand-down to discuss safety fundamentals and flight procedures with their Marines.
  • "This stand down is being taken to ensure the service is maintaining operational standardization of combat-ready aircraft with well-prepared pilots and crews," Smith said.
  • Some aircraft — such as those deployed abroad — can delay the order, but still need to stand down in the days ahead, officials told NBC News.
  • The Navy is investigating this week's incident, a Marine Corps spokesperson told Axios.

Meanwhile, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are also scrutinizing the incident as more information emerges.

  • Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said in a statement Monday night that he and his colleagues on the House Armed Services Committee "will be considering whether congressional action is needed to address this and other recent aviation mishaps."

Backstory: On Sunday, Joint Base Charleston in South Carolina asked for the public's help in locating an F-35B Lightning II jet after the pilot ejected during the "mishap."

  • The base said the pilot was safe and that its personnel were working with Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort to track down the stealth jet, worth upwards of $80 million.
  • On Monday evening, JB Charleston said crews had "located a debris field in Williamsburg County," roughly two hours northeast of the base.
  • The base told nearby community members to avoid the area "as the recovery team secures the debris field," and said the Marine Corps would begin a "recovery process."

The intrigue: It's unclear what the "mishap" was or how, exactly, the stealth fighter went missing.

  • "The Department of the Navy has a well-defined process for investigating aircraft mishaps," U.S. Marine Corps Captain Joseph Leitner said Monday. "We are unable to provide additional details to preserve the integrity of the investigatory process."

Go deeper: Three U.S. Marines killed in aircraft crash in Australia

Editor's note: This story was updated with additional information throughout.

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