Marine officials found a debris field from the missing F-35B Lightning II fighter jet on Monday, ending the mysterious search for the missing aircraft that began when an unnamed pilot from Beaufort’s Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) was forced to eject from the warplane during an unexplained “mishap” Sunday afternoon.
The wreckage was found in rural Williamsburg County, about two hours northeast of Joint Base Charleston. Residents were asked to avoid the crash site while the U.S. Marine Corps began the “recovery process” Monday evening.
Gen. Eric Smith, the Corps’ acting commandant, paused all aviation operations for two days following the fighter jet’s crash, according to reporting from the Associated Press. The crash was the third incident in the last six weeks classified as a “Class A” mishap, entailing damages totaling at least $2.5 million or complete destruction of a Department of Defense aircraft.
In late August, Beaufort-based pilot Maj. Andrew Mettler, known as “Simple Jack,” was killed when the F/A-18D Hornet combat jet he was piloting crashed during a training flight. Just three days later, three Marines were killed and another was critically injured when a V-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft crashed with 23 people aboard during a training drill in Australia.
Officials have not yet disclosed the “mishap” that forced the pilot to eject from the $135 million advanced aircraft, although the military regards a mishap to be any incident that “results in death, injury, illness or property damage.” When an F-35 crashed on Little Barnwell island near MCAS Beaufort in September 2018 — the first time the new fighter jet model had crashed — the incident was identified as a Class A mishap.
Marines from MCAS Beaufort and local Williamsburg County law enforcement assisted in locating and recovering the wrecked jet plane Monday evening.