In an email to his military branch on Monday, Marine Corps acting Commandant Eric Smith said the temporary pause on flights will give officials time to discuss safety measures and procedures, ABC News revealed.
The report noted Smith emphasized that he still had full confidence in the aviation units but determined the stand-down was the “right and prudent” move after the F-35 disappeared in South Carolina and a recent Osprey crash in Australia that killed three U.S. Marines.
A Marine Corps spokesperson told the news outlet the stand-down covers aviation units both inside and outside the United States.
“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,” the Marine Corps said in a news release.
“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 release added.
Joint Base Charleston, which is located in South Carolina, announced on Sunday that efforts were underway to locate the aircraft with the help of Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort following a “mishap” in the afternoon.
“The pilot ejected safely. If you have any information that may help our recovery teams locate the F-35, please call the Base Defense Operations Center at 843-963-3600,” Joint Base Charleston said in a post to its X account.
“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,” Joint Base Charleston said in a second post.
On Monday, Joint Base Charleston gave a brief update on its X account, sharing that the search for the F-35 involved “ground and air assets” with the help of various military, government, and law enforcement entities. By the early evening, the account said a debris field had been located in Williamsburg County, two hours northeast of Joint Base Charleston, and advised members of the public to stay away while a recovery operation gets underway.
Officials have told various media outlets that the missing F-35 — estimated to be worth about $80 million — was placed on autopilot before the pilot ejected, had transponder issues, and was not carrying any live missiles. One news outlet, NBC affiliate WCBD, reported Joint Base Charleston said the pilot was transported to a local medical center and in stable condition while his wingman safely landed at the base.
Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), who serves a Lowcountry district, expressed frustration after the congresswoman said she received a briefing from the U.S. Marines earlier on Monday.
“One of the shortest meetings I’ve ever had, bc guess what, no one [the U.S. Marine Corps] sent over to brief me and my staff had any answers. Shocker,” Mace said on X, adding, “No one knows if the F-35 is in the air or under the water.”