This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
One month after an F-35C Lightning II fighter jet crashed on an aircraft carrier in the South China Sea, the U.S. Navy is finally making the first steps to retrieve the plane from the bottom of the sea.
The U.S. Navy 7th Fleet spokesperson confirmed to RFA on Thursday that it has sent a team “to verify the site and recover the F-35C aircraft involved in the Jan. 24 crash aboard USS Carl Vinson.”
Only after the crash site is verified can the recovery process officially begin.
Cdr. Hayley Sims said that the Navy has “embarked personnel … aboard the diving support construction vessel (DSCV) Picasso, which departed Naha, Okinawa [on] Feb. 23.”
The team includes personnel from Task Force 75 (CTF 75), the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), and NAVSEA’s Supervisor of Salvage and Diving (SUPSALV), Sims said.
Carl Schuster, a retired U.S. Navy captain and former director of operations at the U.S. Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center, said it would take “three to five days for the Picasso to reach the location from Okinawa, depending on transit speed and sea conditions along the route.”
“The Navy and CTF 75 have spent the last month planning and gathering what they needed,” he said.
CTF 75 specializes in disaster response, expeditionary operations that require specialized skills and equipment, including salvage operations.
The F-35C crashed into the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and then fell into the water on Jan. 24. A leaked video showed the plane hit the deck then rotated and skidded in flames before sliding off the flight deck and into the sea.
Five Navy personnel are facing charges for leaking the video, deemed official as it was taken from the pilot’s landing aid television on the aircraft carrier.
High-tech deep-diving support vessel
Last month the Japanese Coast Guard’s Hydrological and Oceanographic Department issued a navigation warning for salvage operations to be carried out in northern part of the South China Sea “until further notice.”
A navigation warning is a public advisory notice to mariners about changes to navigational aids and current marine activities or hazards including fishing zones and military exercises.
The operations are believed to be for the crashed F-35C and the navigation warning is still in effect.
It would take weeks if not months, and millions of dollars to recover the state-of-the-art stealth fighter jet, experts said.
The crash is listed as “Class A mishap” – an incident either “involving loss of life or permanent disability, or the complete loss of an aircraft or property damage of $2.5 million or more,” according to the U.S. Navy.
The vessel contracted by the U.S. Navy for the operation, DSCV Picasso, is a high-tech, deep-diving support vessel built and operated by Singapore-based Ultra Deep Solutions.
Picasso can carry deep-diving underwater unmanned vehicles to do the survey work.