The United States Navy is making arrangements to recover an F-35C fighter jet that fell into the South China Sea after an accident as the pilot attempted a landing on the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier.
The pilot ejected safely but was among seven military personnel who were hurt in the incident.
“I can confirm the aircraft impacted the flight deck during landing and subsequently fell to the water,” said Lieutenant Nicholas Lingo, spokesperson for the US Seventh Fleet.
“The US Navy is making recovery operations arrangements for the F-35C aircraft.”
Asked about an unsourced media report suggesting there were fears that the multimillion-dollar plane could fall into the hands of China, Lingo replied, referring to the People’s Republic of China: “We cannot speculate on what the PRC’s intentions are on this matter.”
The crash is the second involving an F-35 and an aircraft carrier in just over two months.
An F-35 from Britain’s HMS Queen Elizabeth crashed into the Mediterranean Sea in November, although the pilot ejected and was safely returned to the ship. Britain’s Ministry of Defence said that aircraft was subsequently recovered.
Earlier this month, a South Korean F-35A fighter made an emergency landing during training.
In April 2019, a Japanese F-35 stealth fighter crashed in the Pacific Ocean close to northern Japan, killing the pilot.
The incident is also the second involving the US military in the South China Sea.
In October, the nuclear-powered submarine USS Connecticut crashed into an underwater mountain injuring 11 sailors and damaging its forward ballast tanks. An investigation found the accident could have been prevented and the commanding officer was removed from his post.
China, which claims almost the entire South China Sea, said the crash, which came as the US signed a deal to provide Australia with nuclear submarines, showed the dangers of foreign vessels operating in the waterway.
China has increasingly taken steps to assert its claim in recent years, building military facilities on outcrops and deploying its coast guard and maritime militia. The Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, and Taiwan also claim parts of the sea and China has refused to recognise a 2016 ruling from an international tribunal that its claim – based on the so-called nine-dash line – had no legal basis.
Monday’s F35 incident took place as two Carrier Strike Groups, led by the Carl Vinson and USS Abraham Lincoln, with more than 14,000 sailors and marines, were conducting exercises in the South China Sea.
The military says the drills were to demonstrate the “US Indo-Pacific Command Joint Force’s ability to deliver a powerful maritime force.”