A U.S. Navy F-35C Lightning II, assigned to Carrier Air Wing 2, crashed while trying to land on the USS Carl Vinson in the South China Sea, Jan. 24.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Pacific Fleet said, “The pilot safely ejected from the aircraft and was recovered via U.S. military helicopter. The pilot is in stable condition.
There were seven total Sailors injured; three Sailors required MEDEVAC to a medical treatment facility in Manila, Philippines, and four were treated by on-board medical personnel. All three MEDEVACs are assessed as stable. Of the four Sailors treated by on-board medical, three have been released.
Details on the crash of the multimillion-dollar aircraft were still being verified.
“The status and recovery of the aircraft is currently under investigation,” Lt. Mark Langford, a spokesman for the U.S. 7th Fleet, told The Associated Press.
Two American carrier strike groups with more than 14,000 sailors and marines are conducting exercises in the South China Sea, which the military says is to demonstrate the “U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Joint Force’s ability to deliver a powerful maritime force.”
Impact to the deck of the USS Carl Vinson was “superficial,” Langford said, and both carriers have resumed routine flight operations.
As China has pressed territorial claims in the South China Sea and increased pressure on Taiwan, the U.S. and its allies have stepped up exercises in the region, in what they call freedom of navigation operations in line with international law.
As the Carl Vinson and Abraham Lincoln strike groups began their dual carrier operations on Jan. 23, China flew 39 warplanes toward Taiwan in its largest such sortie of the new year, according to Taiwan’s defense ministry.
The formation of 24 Chinese J-16 and 10 J-10 fighter jets stayed out of Taiwanese air space, but the maneuver prompted Taiwan to scramble its own aircraft in response.
Chinese pilots have been flying toward Taiwan on a near-daily basis, and it was unclear if Sunday’s flights were a response to the American exercises. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs refused to comment.
Taiwan and China split during a civil war in 1949, but China claims the island as its own territory. Beijing has used diplomatic and military means to isolate and intimidate the self-ruled island, but the U.S. has continued to support Taiwan by selling it advanced weapons and fighter planes.
Editor’s note: David Rising, Associated Press, contributed to this report.