The U.S. Marine Corps issued a stand-down order for all pilots after an F-35 stealth fighter jet went missing in South Carolina over the weekend.
The military branch issued a statement Monday saying the order was issued due to three recent mishaps involving Marine Corps aircraft. It means no units will be allowed to fly until the order is lifted.
“During the safety 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,” the Marine Corps statement said. “This stand down being taken to ensure the service is maintaining operational standardization of combat-ready aircraft with well-prepared pilots and crews.”
The pause in flying will invest “time and energy in reinforcing the Marine aviation community’s established policies, practices and procedures in the interests of public safety, protecting our Marines and sailors and ensuring the Marine Corps remains a ready and highly-trained fighting force,” Monday’s statement added.
A spokesperson for the Marines also told ABC News that aircraft both inside and outside the United States cannot fly until safety measures are re-established.
The standdown comes about a day after officials confirmed that an F-35 stealth fighter went missing after a pilot ejected over South Carolina. The plane still had not been located as of Monday evening.
“The search-and-recovery efforts for the aircraft are ongoing, and we are thankful to the agencies assisting in this effort,” said a statement from the Marine Corps.
The F-35 was in autopilot when the pilot ejected, Jeremy Huggins, a spokesperson at Joint Base Charleston, told multiple news outlets. He said that the plane could have been flying for some period of time but said it’s likely the aircraft wasn’t airborne after 12 p.m. ET on Monday.
The Joint Base Charleston wrote on social media that it is asking the public for help in finding it. In a separate statement, the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office said that residents should not touch or move “any portion of the aircraft” if they find it.
Based on the missing plane’s location and trajectory, the search for the F-35 Lightning II jet was focused on Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion, said Senior Master Sgt. Heather Stanton at Joint Base Charleston. Both lakes are north of North Charleston.
A South Carolina Law Enforcement Division helicopter joined the search for the F-35 after some bad weather cleared in the area, Stanton said. Military officials appealed in online posts Sunday for any help from the public in locating the aircraft.
Officials are still investigating why the pilot ejected, authorities said. The Joint Base Charleston said that a “mishap” occurred during the flight.
“Based on the jet’s last-known position and in coordination with the FAA, we are focusing our attention north of JB Charleston, around Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion,” the Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.
The planes and pilots were with the Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 based in Beaufort, not far from South Carolina’s Atlantic coast.
The incident drew criticism from some lawmakers, who questioned how the U.S. military could lose a $100 million fighter jet.
“How in the hell do you lose an F-35?” Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), whose district includes part of Charleston, wrote on X. “How is there not a tracking device and we’re asking the public to what, find a jet and turn it in?”
She later wrote Monday that no officials with the Marine Corps “sent over to brief me and my staff had any answers. Shocker.” The military branch hasn’t publicly responded.
“When there is an ongoing situation which potentially threatens public safety, the Pentagon has an obligation to keep citizens and their representatives informed,” Mrs. Mace said in a statement on Monday.
In response, a spokesperson for the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing told the Marine Corps Times that “we are unable to provide additional details to preserve the integrity of the investigatory process.”
Several other Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, were publicly critical of the incident. “This is what happens when military leaders are more focused on woke ideology than actually running a competent military,” Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) wrote on social media.
In August, a Marine pilot died after his F-18 fighter jet crashed in Southern California. Three Marines also died during an MV-22 crash several days later.
After those incidents, acting commandant Gen. Eric Smith last month ordered all Marine Corps units to review their safety procedures.