The F-35C, a single-engine stealth fighter and the newest jet in the US Navy fleet, crash-landed on the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson during routine operations on Monday, the Navy said.
The $100 million warplane impacted the flight deck of the 100,000-ton aircraft carrier and then fell into the water as its pilot ejected, Navy officials said. The pilot and six sailors aboard the Vinson were injured.
CNN’s Ivan Watson explains US Navy’s race to salvage its fighter jet:
A spokesperson for the US Navy’s 7th Fleet said Friday that an investigation into the incident is continuing while confirming images that have emerged on social media since the crash are genuine.
“The ship has assessed that the video and photo covered by media today were taken onboard USS Carl Vinson … during the crash,” Cmdr. Hayley Sims, public affairs officer for the 7th Fleet said.
A still photograph shows the stealth fighter floating on the surface of the South China Sea, its cockpit open and ejection seat missing.
A video shows the F-35 on its landing approach to the aircraft carrier but cuts off before the plane impacts the flight deck.
The Navy said earlier this week that the damage to the Vinson was only superficial, and it and the carrier’s air wing have resumed normal operations.
An effort to recover the fighter jet from the bottom of the South China Sea had begun, said Lt. Nicholas Lingo, another 7th Fleet spokesperson.
Analysts said raising the aircraft would likely be a complex operation, and one that would be monitored by China, which claims almost all of the 1.3 million-square-mile South China Sea as its territory.
The F-35C contains some of the Navy’s most advanced technology, and the analysts said Washington would want to keep it out of Beijing’s hands.
However, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Thursday they were aware that a US Navy stealth fighter had crashed in the South China Sea, but “had no interests in their plane.”
“We advise [the US] to contribute more to regional peace and stability, rather than flexing force at every turn in [the South China Sea],” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said.