Video Of F-35 Stealth Fighter Crash Goes Viral In China, Russia; US Navy Says Will Probe How Images Got Leaked

The US Navy confirmed the authenticity of a photo and video of an F-35C fighter aircraft that crashed into the South China Sea earlier this week. The photo and the video were circulating on social media. 

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Someone onboard the USS Carl Vinson snapped these photos, the Navy said. The Navy is also looking into how the photo and video were leaked, in addition to the cause of the crash. 

“The ship has assessed that the video and photo covered in the media today were taken onboard USS CARL VINSON (CVN 70) during the crash. There is an ongoing investigation of the incident,” the Navy said in a statement. 

The F-35C is seen approaching the carrier as the ship itself completes a maneuver in the 18-second footage, which was widely shared on social media. The aircraft is seen speeding up and flying past the camera. Then, there is noise coming from the fighter jet engine before it shows a plume of smoke. 

Earlier, an image of a fighter plane in the water made the rounds on Twitter, Reddit, and Weibo, China’s main social media platform. The snapshot appears to depict an F-35C jet with an empty cockpit and debris scattered around. The plane is seen floating in the South China Sea in the photo. The Navy initially said it couldn’t verify the photo’s legitimacy, but later confirmed it.

The pilot ejected safely from the plane, although he was one of seven sailors injured in the accident. Apparently, everyone appears to be in good health or has recovered.

Four of those injured were treated aboard the Carl Vinson, while the pilot and two other sailors were airlifted to a medical center near Manila, Philippines, according to previous Navy statements.

An F35C is directed on the flight deck of the USS Abraham – Via Twitter

The crash happened on the second day of naval drills between the Carl Vinson and the USS Abraham Lincoln, both Nimitz-class aircraft carriers. Since January 23, they’ve been conducting operations in the contested South China Sea, the Pentagon said. 

Efforts To Recover the F-35C

Meanwhile, attempts are underway to recover the plane from the seabed. Concerns that Chinese submarines which patrol the area could be the first to retrieve the wreckage that fell from the deck of the aircraft carrier. The US Navy is keeping a careful check on the incident’s general region to ensure that no foreign countries try to track down or interfere with the plane.

“We’re certainly mindful of the value of an F-35 in every respect of what value means,” said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby. “And as we continue to attempt recovery of the aircraft we’re going to do it obviously with safety foremost in mind, but clearly our own national security interests. And I think I will just leave it at that.”

China or possibly Russia would have every incentive to recover at least elements of the downed F-35. An operation like this might provide a gold mine of intelligence and aid in the development of their own technological capabilities and ability to fight the F-35.

However, Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, has refuted these claims. He stated Beijing had “no interest in their aircraft” during his regular press conference on January 27. 

Zhao added: “This is not the first time the US has had an accident in the South China Sea. The US has yet to give a clear explanation about its nuclear submarine’s collision with a seamount not long ago. Now one of their carrier-based aircraft has fallen into the South China Sea.”

“We urge the country concerned to do things that are conducive to regional peace and stability, rather than flex its muscles in the area,” he said. 

This is the third instance that an F-35 has crashed into the sea and had to be retrieved. A British F-35B (short takeoff and vertical landing) crashed in the Mediterranean in November 2021 after losing power while taking off from the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth. The plane was recovered from the seafloor a few weeks later.

In 2019, a Japanese F-35A, the conventional takeoff and landing version, crashed into the Pacific, killing the pilot. The wreckage of the Japanese jet and the remains of the pilot were found two months later.

The flight data recorder of the plane was retreived, but it was deemed to be damaged beyond repair, and the major chunk of the wrekage is still submerged. Japanese rescuers recovered one of the plane’s tails from the ocean. In that case, the plane hit the water at a high speed, causing significant damage to the plane.