Marines ground all flights after string of serious 'mishaps,' including the mysterious disappearance of an F-35 stealth fighter jet

  • The US Marine Corps is ordering a two-day pause to all its flight operations this week.

  • In an announcement, the service said this was triggered by a string of "aviation mishaps."

  • Most recently, a pilot ejected from an F-35 during training and the aircraft went missing.

The US Marines Corps is ordering a two-day pause to all flights this week after a string of "aviation mishaps," including an incident in which an F-35 fighter jet went missing this week.

Gen. Eric M. Smith, acting commandant of the Marine Corps, directed all of the service's aviation units "to conduct a two-day pause in operations this week to discuss aviation safety matters and best practices," according to a statement on Monday.

The Marine Corps said the announcement follows "three Class-A aviation mishaps over the last six weeks." A Class-A mishap is defined by the Naval Safety Command as inflicting property damage worth $2.5 million or more, "and/or aircraft destroyed." It also covers fatalities or permanent total disabilities.

The other two incidents referred to by the announcement occurred in late August, according to a US Navy database of flight mishaps for the 2023 fiscal year. On August 24, an F/A-18 fighter jet crashed in southern California, killing the Marine who was piloting the aircraft. Three days later, a MV-22B Osprey crashed during a training exercise in Australia, killing three Marines and injuring over 20 more.

Most recently, a Marine Corps pilot was forced to eject from a F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter during a training exercise over South Carolina on Sunday, which appeared to be the final straw for the service and triggered the flight pause. Joint Base Charleston confirmed Sunday afternoon that there was a "mishap" involving the fighter jet, and the US military has asked the public for its help finding the missing aircraft.

A highly advanced fifth-generation aircraft, the F-35 is estimated to cost around $100 million, and because the decades-long program to develop the fighters is expected to cost over $1 trillion, it's earned the title of being one of the country's costliest weapons programs in history. As of Monday afternoon, the military was conducting extensive search operations to try and locate the missing jet.

"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 said in the Monday statement. "This stand down being taken to ensure the service is maintaining operational standardization of combat-ready aircraft with well-prepared pilots and crews."

The Marine Corps added that this pause "invests 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."

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