The US Navy has said it has recovered a stealth fighter jet from the floor of the South China Sea where it sank after an “accident” in January.
A significant operation was undertaken to recover the $100m (£74m) F-35C jet – the newest, most advanced in the US forces.
The aircraft ended up at the bottom of the South China Sea following a landing problem on the USS Carl Vinson.
The F-35C Lightning II was retrieved on Wednesday from a depth of 12,400 feet (3,780 meters) using a remotely operated vehicle that fastened rigging and lifted lines to the aircraft. A hook was lowered from a diving support ship’s crane to the seafloor, 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 the 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 plunged into the sea, the Navy said. The pilot was ejected to safety and saved by a helicopter.
The South China Sea, home to important 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 maintain its claim of the territory, declining to recognize a 2016 international tribunal ruling saying there was no proof that China had historically exercised complete control over the waters.