The skies over the Lowcountry might be quieter for a while after officials announced Thursday that all F-35 stealth fighters have been grounded in the wake of a recent crash involving a Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort jet.
The news was reported by multiple outlets, including Task & Purpose and The Marine Corps Times, and comes after a Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II was destroyed in a crash Sept. 28 on Little Barnwell Island, just a few miles from the air station.
The pilot, a U.S. Marine, according to officials, ejected safely.
Capt. Christopher Harrison, a Marine Corps spokesperson at the Pentagon, told The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette that the investigation of the crash prompted the government’s decision to temporarily suspend flight operations.
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Harrison called the action “more of a temporary pause in action” as opposed to an indefinite grounding, which is more severe. The pause began last night, after a “time compliance technical directive” was issued.
“In this scenario, we know the exact issue,” Harrison said, “and guidance has been provided to complete the inspections,” which Harrison said are ongoing.
The entire global fleet of F-35s — including Marine Corps, Air Force and Navy variants — will stay on the ground while inspectors look at the airplanes’ engines.
According to the Marine Corps Times, “investigators ... suspect there is a widespread problem with the advanced fighter’s fuel tubes.”
The inspections should be complete within 24 to 48 hours, Task & Purpose reported, citing a Pentagon official. Planes known to have working fuel tubes installed will return to the skies.
September’s crash and ejection were the first ever by an F-35, the Corps confirmed at the time.
The incident came the day after Marine F-35s completed their first-ever combat missions, in Afghanistan.
An F-35B costs around $115 million, according to the Corps, a figure that includes associated contractor fees and the plane’s engine.