This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
The U.S. Navy is investigating the “unauthorized leak” of an official video showing the crash of an F-35C fighter jet on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier in the South China Sea last month, the Pentagon says.
The video of the so-called “ramp strike” by the jet on the USS Carl Vinson emerged at the weekend and was then shared widely on social media including Twitter and YouTube.
The Pentagon confirmed that the video of the Jan. 24 crash is authentic. It shows footage, apparently originating from flight deck cameras and taken from two angles as the jet comes into land. From the first one, the plane hits the deck then rotates and skids in flames. In the second, it crashes onto the deck before sliding off the flight deck and into the sea.
Yelling can be heard for the pilot to abort the landing attempt but within five seconds the F-35C had dropped into the South China Sea.
The pilot safely ejected, the U.S. Navy said earlier.
Another video clip and a photo circulating on social media last week showed the F-35C hitting the water the right side. It appeared to be intact before sinking.
Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said the U.S. Navy is investigating the “unauthorized leak” of the official video.
This is “going to be crucial to the investigation into the mishap itself,” he told a media briefing on Monday.
He said the U.S. Navy is “taking all the appropriate planning actions” to recover the plane, and that the salvage operation would be done “in a timely manner as we’ve done in the past.”
It has been two weeks since the crash. U.S. 7th Fleet spokesperson Cmdr. Hayley Sims was quoted in the U.S. Naval Institute’s news portal USNI News as saying that “the U.S. Navy has begun mobilizing units that will be used to verify the site and recover the F-35C aircraft.”
On Feb. 2 the Japanese Coast Guard issued a navigation warning for mariners to beware of salvage operations, believed to be for the U.S. fighter, which would take place at a location west of Luzon Island of the Philippines.
Experts told RFA the water depth at the site is around 3,000 meters to 3,500 meters, and the salvage operation could take more several weeks.
The $100-million F-35, developed by the American aerospace giant Lockheed Martin Corp., is a state-of-the-art, stealth aircraft.
The leaked footage of the crash has attracted huge attention from observers and analysts who said China would be interested in recovering the wreckage that may contain sensitive technological information.
Beijing said it had “no interest” in the affair but Chinese military observers have been monitoring the accident closely – not least because it took place in the South China Sea which China regards as its own domain and which has become a focus of strategic rivalry with the U.S and its allies.
The state-run Global Times on Monday said the accident “again exposed the exhaustion and lack of proper management of the U.S. military under its excessive troop deployment in attempts to contain China.”
Pentagon’s spokesperson Kirby, when asked, dismissed concerns about “specific Chinese ship movements” in the salvage area and said any question about “some sort of competition to recover what is in fact our property is speculative at best.”