F-35C fighter jet recovered from South China Sea

This image released by the US Navy courtesy of Lockheed Martin shows the the US Navy variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in flight

The US Navy has said it has retrieved a stealth fighter jet from the depths of the South China Sea where it sank after a “mishap” in January.

A major operation was launched to recover the $100m (£74m) F-35C jet – the newest, most advanced in the US force.

The aircraft ended up in at the bottom of the South China Sea following a landing problem on the USS Carl Vinson.

The region has been a source of rising US-China tensions in recent years.

The F-35C Lightning II was retrieved on Wednesday from a depth of 12,400 feet (3,780 metres) using a remotely operated vehicle that fastened rigging and lift lines to the aircraft. A hook was lowered from a diving support ship’s crane to the sea floor, which was attached to the rigging. The jet was then lifted to the surface and hoisted aboard the vessel.

“The recovery effort shows the US Navy’s commitment to its assets, and a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the Navy said in a statement.

Seven sailors were injured in the crash earlier this year, when the F-35C struck the deck of aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson in a crash landing made during a military exercise.

The single-engine stealth fighter impacted the flight deck of the 100,00-tonne aircraft carrier and then fell into the sea, the Navy said. The pilot was ejected to safety and rescued in a helicopter.

The South China Sea, home to vital shipping lanes, has been a geopolitical flashpoint for years, with several countries claiming ownership of its small islands and reefs and with it, access to its resources.

China has taken increasingly forceful steps to assert its claim of the territory, refusing to recognise a 2016 international tribunal ruling saying there was no evidence that China had historically exercised exclusive control over the waters.

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