The first images of the US Navy F-35C stealth fighter jet that crashed into the South China Sea on January 24 have emerged, showing the stealth fighter floating on the surface with its cockpit canopy open and missing its ejection seat.
The U.S. Navy's newest single-engine stealth fighter, which is worth $100 million, had crash-landed on the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson while conducting routine operations, according to U.S. Navy.
According to Navy officials, the pilot had ejected himself before the plane fell into the sea after impacting the aircraft carrier’s deck and injuring six sailors and the pilot.
US Navy is working on the recovery of the jet since then, trying to beat China to it, to keep it away from Beijing’s hands, as it contains some of the U.S. Navy's most advanced technologies.
However, China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said that China was were aware that a US Navy stealth fighter had crashed in the South China Sea, but they had no interest in the stealth fighter and added, "We advise [the US] to contribute more to regional peace and stability, rather than flexing force at every turn in [the South China Sea]".
A spokesperson for the US Navy's 7th Fleet confirmed the genuineness of the images on Friday and announced that an investigation into the incident is continuing.
"The ship has assessed that the video and photo covered by media today were taken onboard USS Carl Vinson ... during the crash," public affairs officer for the 7th Fleet Cmdr. Hayley Sims said, according to CNN.
The U.S. Navy announced earlier this week that the damage to the aircraft carrier was superficial and it resumed its normal operations.
Another spokesperson from the 7th Fleet, Lt. Nicholas Lingo said that efforts to recover the fighter jet from the bottom of the South China Sea have begun.
We don’t know how much effort the recovery of the U.S. Navy F-35C will require, but, as mentioned above, the sea service has already started operations to retrieve the airframe so as to protect the technical secrets to its most advanced fighter.
The recovery operation is probably going to be a difficult one as China claims almost all of the 1.3-million sq. mile South China Sea as its territory and will monitor the operation closely.
A retired Marine Corps officer and current senior advisor for the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ International Security Program, Mark Cancian, told Navy Times that the recovery of the stealth fighter should be “relatively easy,” given that the South China Sea isn't that deep.
Although the U.S. Navy had not given details on how it plans to recover the aircraft, it recovered an MH-60S Seahawk helicopter from a depth of 19.075 feet (5.8 kilometers) off the coast of Okinawa, Japan back in 2020.