The U.S. Navy said it has begun making preparations to salvage an F-35C warplane had a “landing mishap” in the South China Sea on Monday.
Seven sailors were injured after the fighter jet “had a landing mishap on deck while USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) was conducting routine flight operations,” a Jan. 24 statement from the Navy said.
Lt. Nicholas Lingo, spokesperson for the U.S. 7th Fleet, said on Tuesday that the F-35C Joint Strike Fighter jet “impacted the flight deck during landing” and subsequently fell to the water.
“The U.S. Navy is making recovery operations arrangements for the F-35C aircraft,” he said.
The Navy said on Monday that the pilot ejected safely in the incident, but was among the personnel hurt.
“The pilot is in stable condition. There were seven total Sailors injured,” Monday’s statement said.
Three of the sailors were evacuated to a medical facility in Manila, Philippines. They are now in stable condition. Four other sailors were treated on board, three of whom have been released.
“Additional details and the cause of the inflight mishap is under investigation,” the Navy said.
The Pentagon said two U.S. Navy Carrier Strike Groups, led by the Carl Vinson and USS Abraham Lincoln, began operations in the South China Sea on Sunday. The carriers entered the disputed sea for training as Taiwan reported a new Chinese air force incursion at the top of the waterway.
When questioned about an unsourced media report suggesting there were fears that the aircraft could fall into the hands of China, which claims most of the South China Sea, Lingo replied, referring to the People’s Republic of China, “We cannot speculate on what the PRC’s intentions are on this matter.”
According to Lt. Mark Langford, another 7th Fleet spokesman, the damage to the carrier’s deck in Monday’s incident was “superficial” and all equipment for flight operations is “operational.”
It was the second crash involving an F-35, which is made by Lockheed Martin, and a carrier in just over two months.
An F-35 from Britain’s HMS Queen Elizabeth crashed into the Mediterranean Sea in November, though the pilot ejected and was safely returned to the ship. Britain’s Ministry of Defense 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.
Reuters contributed to this report.