A US Navy F-35C Joint Strike Fighter crashed during landing and was sent into the sea. The pilot was quickly (and safely) ejected, but the plane sank to the bottom of the South China Sea. To prevent others from recovering the vessel, the Service will reclaim it.
The US Navy lost an F-35 strike fighter during what was described as a “landing mashup”. The incident took place on January 24 in the South China Sea while the USS Carl Vinson was training with other warships in the region. China will send a rescue team to recover the plane before the service.
According to a statement from the US Pacific Fleet, the incident occurred while the plane was landing. It also said the pilot was “extricated safely”, was evacuated by a helicopter, and is in stable condition. All told, seven sailors were injured in the accident, three of whom were transported to a medical treatment facility in Manila, Philippines, and four were treated on board.
Like other services, the Navy prefers not to release too many details pending the outcome of the investigation. Typically, it will only acknowledge basic details such as the loss of the aircraft, what it was doing (in the broadest sense) when it was lost, and the medical condition of the person injured in the incident.
The F-35 reportedly sank to the bottom of the ocean, but not before a photo allegedly captured it on the surface.
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An enhanced and close-up photo of an F-35C allegedly circling the USS Carl Vinson in the South China Sea on Jan. 24 shows VFA-147 markings on the tail.
Vinson was in the western Pacific with the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. The two were practicing dual-carrier operations, including “maritime communications operations, anti-submarine warfare operations, air warfare operations, replacement at sea, cross-deck flight operations, and maritime interdiction operations,” according to the statement. Also in the area were the USS America Expeditionary Strike Group, centered around the amphibious assault ship USS America, and the USS Amphibious Ready Group centered around the.
The concentration of U.S. naval power in the South China Sea is also the largest concentration of F-35 fighter jets at sea, with ten F-35Cs operating from the Vinson, ten from the Lincoln, and six F-35Bs operating from the amphibious assault ship USS have been. America’s loss Monday is the first of the A-C model, a Navy-dedicated variant that features stronger landing gear for carrier takeoff and landing, a slightly larger wing, and a slightly longer range.
In late 2021, a Royal Air Force F-35B went missing during takeoff from the United Kingdom carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth. The American, British and Italian navies recovered the plane from the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. The plane was in relatively good condition, as these photos show, but it would never fly again. Similarly, the US Navy has promised to recover the plane that went missing last Monday.
The F-35C’s larger, more triangular wing is evident in this shot of a VFA-147 jet taking off from the USS Vinson in September 2020.
Why are F-35 users recovering missing fighters? The fear is that if the planes are abandoned, other powers—notably Russia and China—will restore the planes themselves to study their technology. Although the planes are unflyable and their electronics have long been destroyed, a foreign country can learn important design details and examine the advanced composites that make up the plane’s fuselage and skin.
While both Russia and China have the ability to salvage a jet from the bottom of the ocean, Russia has actually done so. Russian crews have recovered a MiG-29 and a Su-33 fighter jet from the Mediterranean Sea. The US government, for its part, once recovered an entire missile submarine (or the remains of one anyway) in 1974 with Project Azure.