BANGKOK (AP) — A US Navy F35C Lightning II military aircraft conducting an exercise in the South China Sea crashed while attempting to land on the deck of a US aircraft carrier, injuring seven sailors, the military said on Tuesday.
The pilot was able to eject before the plane hit the deck of the USS Carl Vinson on Monday and was safely evacuated by helicopter, said Lt. Mark Langford, spokesman for the US 7th Fleet.
Seven sailors, including the pilot, were injured, three were evacuated to Manila, Philippines for treatment, and four were treated on board the ship. The three sent to Manila were reported Tuesday morning in stable condition, the Navy said.
According to Langford, the details of the crash of the multi-million dollar plane are still being clarified.
“The condition and recovery of the aircraft is currently under investigation,” he told The Associated Press.
Two U.S. carrier strike groups with more than 14,000 sailors and marines are conducting exercises in the South China Sea that the military says should demonstrate “the ability of the combined forces of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command to deliver a powerful maritime force.”
According to Langford, the impact on the deck of the aircraft carrier “Carl Vinson” was “superficial”, and both aircraft carriers resumed normal flights.
As China made territorial claims in the South China Sea and escalated pressure on Taiwan, the US and its allies have stepped up exercises in the region, which they call freedom of navigation operations under international law.
When strike forces Carl Vinson and Abraham Lincoln launched operations on two aircraft carriers on Sunday, China sent 39 warplanes toward Taiwan, making its biggest sortie of the new year, according to Taiwan’s Defense Department.
A formation of 24 Chinese J-16s and 10 J-10s remained outside Taiwanese airspace, but this maneuver prompted Taiwan to take off its aircraft in response.
Chinese pilots flew towards Taiwan almost daily, and it was not clear if Sunday’s flights were in response to American exercises. The Chinese Foreign Ministry declined to comment.
Taiwan and China split during a civil war in 1949, but China claimed the island as its territory. Beijing used diplomatic and military means to isolate and intimidate the self-governing island, but the US continued to support Taiwan by selling it modern weapons and fighter jets.