Eglin Orders Brief Suspension of Flight Ops Following F-35, F-22 Crashes

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A 33rd Fighter Wing F-35A Lightning II takes off Feb. 27 to conduct sorties at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. over Eglin’s 724 square miles of land ranges and 120,000 miles of over water airspace. The F-35 is the world’s most advanced multi-role fighter providing unmatched capabilities to military forces around the world. (Kristin Stewart/U.S. Air Force)
A 33rd Fighter Wing F-35A Lightning II takes off Feb. 27 to conduct sorties at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. over Eglin’s 724 square miles of land ranges and 120,000 miles of over water airspace. The F-35 is the world’s most advanced multi-role fighter providing unmatched capabilities to military forces around the world. (Kristin Stewart/U.S. Air Force)

Flight operations at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, have been suspended for a brief "safety pause" Thursday following two back-to-back crashes of stealth fighters less than a week apart.

"The events over the past few days remind us that the defense of our country can be a dangerous business," said Brig. Gen. Scott Cain, commander of the 96th Test Wing, said in a letter posted on Eglin's official Facebook page. "It is very important to me that we now take a safety pause."

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"I'm asking commanders at all levels to conduct a virtual safety day on Thursday, May 21," Cain continued. "I've asked my Safety Office to develop a safety briefing for use across the installation. Additional information and guidance on the safety day will be released through your chain of command. Please take this time to focus on staying safe this weekend, how we conduct our missions safely, and on our resilience."

An F-35A Lightning II, assigned to the 58th Fighter Squadron of the 33rd Fighter Wing, crashed around 9:30 p.m. local time on Tuesday upon landing, base officials said in a release. The pilot, who is in stable condition, "successfully ejected and was transported to the 96th Medical Group Hospital at Eglin for evaluation and monitoring," officials said at the time.

"There was no loss of life or damage to civilian property," the release said

The crash-landing marked the second accident at the Florida panhandle base in a week's time.

An F-22 Raptor crashed last Friday morning during a routine training flight near Eglin.

The pilot was able to eject safely and had been evaluated by the 96th Medical Group; the crash occurred roughly 12 miles northeast of Eglin on the test and training range. No injuries were reported.

"We breathe a sigh of relief knowing the pilots of both aircraft were cared for by our medical team and released from the hospital," Cain on Wednesday, adding safety officials "are in the initial phases of the accident investigations."

The 33rd Fighter Wing is the lead training wing for F-35 student pilots at the base. Although the F-35 is the Pentagon's newest and most advanced aircraft, the oldest Joint Strike Fighters in the fleet reside at Eglin. The planes are part of Lockheed Martin's earliest low-rate initial production batches.

Meanwhile, the F-22 is part of the 325th Fighter Wing, which is assigned to Tyndall. However, following Hurricane Michael in 2018, the Air Force moved its F-22 fleet from Tyndall, dividing the aircraft between Eglin, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia; Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska; and Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.

The Raptor schoolhouse for pilots, as well as maintenance operations, were relocated to Eglin.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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