Footage leaked on Friday showing what appears to be the moments surrounding the F-35C stealth fighter crash that took place on a U.S. aircraft carrier in the South China Sea on Tuesday. Leaked photos also showed the crashed jet in the ocean.
Babak Taghvaee, a reporter for The Independent’s and Radio Free Europe’s Persian language news services tweeted early Friday, “Someone has now leaked video of the accident for F-35C Lightning II of #USNavy’s VFA-147 Argonauts a few days ago. Due to pilot’s mistake, the aircraft landed early on USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) Aircraft Carrier and slipped into sea with severed landing gears!”
Defense journalist Mike Yeo tweeted photos pointing out what appears to be the insignia for Strike Fighter Squadron 147 Argonauts — the F-35 squadron operating on the Carl Vinson.
The Navy confirmed to Task & Purpose on Friday that the video and photos were indeed authentic.
According to a U.S. Navy statement on the incident, the F-35 fighter jet was coming in for a landing on the USS Carl Vinson, when an accident occurred during the landing. The fighter jet landed hard on the carrier deck before falling over the side of the ship and into the sea.
The pilot was able to eject from the aircraft and was later safely recovered by a Navy helicopter. The pilot and six other sailors were injured in the incident and the fighter jet and the fighter jet sunk into the sea.
Taghvaee tweeted additional photos of the F-35 sinking into the water.
“Meet the poor Lockheed F-35C Lightning II of #USNavy that crashed near the northwest coast of Philippines 3 days ago,” he tweeted. “This happened due to pilot’s mistake during landing on USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) aircraft carrier on January 24, 2022. VFA-147 Argonauts now has eight F-35Cs left.”
The U.S. Navy has already begun efforts to recover the sunken $100 million fifth-generation fighter jet, but its loss in the South China Sea raises the risk that China could get to it first.
While the South China Sea largely represents international waters, China has laid extensive territorial claims throughout the sea. China has also bolstered those territorial claims by building up and militarizing reefs and artificial islands and maintaining a strong naval presence in the region.
“U.S. and Chinese military forces will be racing to salvage the F-35 fighter jet off the bottom of the ocean,” Josh Lospinoso, the CEO of the cybersecurity firm Shift5 told American Military News on Wednesday. “Both parties realize the potential intelligence value of recovering even components of the downed aircraft. Since the F-35 is the world’s most advanced stealth fighter, China has deep interest in obtaining example aircraft to steal technology and learn how to defeat it.”
Carl Schuster, a former director of intelligence operations at the U.S. Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) also told CNN he anticipates China will try to locate the crashed fighter jet and thoroughly survey it using deep-sea submersible. Schuster said China might even try to assert salvage rights over the F-35 wreckage, based on its territorial claims in the South China Sea.