- The US Navy confirms the image, as well as a video circulating on social media, were taken from the USS Carl Vinson ‘during the crash’
- Experts warn China might try to get its hands on the advanced fighter if the US fails to recover it, but Beijing says it ‘has no interest’ in the aircraft
US Navy F-35 Crashed in South China Sea
The US Navy confirmed Friday that a photo and video circulating on social media this week did show an F-35C, one of its most advanced fighter aircraft, crash-landing on the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) and floating in the South China Sea after falling off the carrier.
“The ship has assessed that the video and photo covered by media today were taken on board USS Carl Vinson,” Commander Hayley Sims, a 7th Fleet public affairs officer, said on Friday.
Sims said the images from the carrier were taken “during the crash”.
CNN first reported the Navy’s confirmation of the imagery authenticity.
The Navy said Monday that an F-35C suffered a “landing mishap” on the Vinson’s deck while conducting routine flight operations in the South China Sea — injuring seven sailors. According to Navy officials, the aircraft fell into the ocean after crashing on the deck.
“Impact to the flight deck is superficial and all equipment for flight operations is operational,” Navy spokesman Lt. Mark Langford told Navy Times in an email Tuesday.
“All injured Sailors have been reported to be recovered or in stable condition,” Langford said.
Three sailors – including the pilot and two other sailors – were evacuated to receive treatment for their injuries in Manila, Philippines. The other sailors were treated aboard the ship.
The Navy is planning to recover the jet from the South China Sea, according to ABC News.
Mark Cancian, a retired Marine Corps officer and current senior advisor for the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ International Security Program, told Navy Times it’s necessary to recover the jet so adversaries can’t access it.
“This is our most sophisticated aircraft, it has all kinds of electronics onboard that our adversaries would love to get a hold of,” Cancian said. “We need to make sure they don’t.”
Responding to those particular concerns, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Thursday that it has “no interest in their aircraft”.
The Navy said in its latest statement that “there is an ongoing investigation of the incident”, though it is unclear if that referred to just the accident or the imagery leak as well.
This week’s incident follows another in November 2021 in which a British pilot flying an F-35B, a short-take-off/vertical landing variant, had to eject from the aircraft during take-off while the British Royal Navy’s flagship carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth conducted flight operations in the Mediterranean.
The aircraft, which slipped off the flight deck into the ocean, was pulled from the sea in December amid reported concerns about the Russians possibly trying to recover the plane.
Recovering the jet should be “relatively easy,” given that the South China Sea’s waters aren’t terribly deep.
“The United States routinely goes and salvages aircraft that have crashed in order to better understand what happened and to safeguard the sensitive equipment on them,” Cancian said.
The Vinson’s deployment, which is expected to wrap up in the spring, is the first including the F-35C Lightning II fighter jet and the CMV-22 Osprey.