More than seven American sailors were injured following a “landing mishap” involving a combat aircraft on the deck of a nuclear-powered US carrier, which was sailing in the South China Sea, the US Navy has said.
In a statement issued late on Monday, the US Pacific Fleet command said that the F-35C Lightning II jet “was conducting routine flight operations” when the crash happened on the deck of the USS Carl Vinson.
“The pilot safely ejected from the aircraft and was recovered via US military helicopter,” the statement from the US Navy’s office in Hawaii said, adding that the airman “is in stable condition”.
Of the seven sailors who were injured, three were medically evacuated to a treatment facility in the Philippine capital of Manila.
The statement did not say why the three personnel had to be evacuated, but added that they were later “assessed as stable”.
Four other personnel were treated on board the USS Carl Vinson, and three of them were released. There were no additional details provided on the condition of the fourth sailor.
The US Navy said that the cause of the “inflight mishap is under investigation”.
The statement did not provide information about the condition of the F-35C aircraft and whether the USS Carl Vinson sustained any physical damage.
The Philippine government has yet to issue a statement about the incident.
In October, another US vessel, the nuclear-powered submarine USS Connecticut, was involved in another incident in the Indo-Pacific region. None of the sailors involved suffered life-threatening injuries, but the event led to the firing of a submarine commander.
The Naval Institute news website reported that the latest incident happened as the USS Carl Vinson was conducting a military drill in the disputed South China Sea alongside the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group.
According to publicly available information, both carriers are considered Nimitz-type vessels, which are classified as “nuclear-powered” carriers.
In recent weeks, the two American vessels have conducted military exercises with a Japanese naval ship in the Philippine Sea, while USS Carl Vinson also held “expeditionary strike force training operations” with an Essex group of American warships.
Last week, the USS Benfold, a destroyer armed with guided missiles, also sailed in the South China Sea in the vicinity of the Paracel Islands, which are claimed by both China and Vietnam.
The United States has been conducting naval drills and freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea, as it seeks to challenge China’s expanding maritime activities in the waters, which Beijing claims almost in their entirety.
Earlier this month, the US said that China’s activities in the South China Sea, including its “historic claims” of the vital trade route “gravely undermine the rule of law” in the ocean and universally-recognized provisions in international law.
China cites its so-called “nine-dash-line” claim to assert its rights over the entire sea.
An international tribunal in The Hague declared the claim to have “no legal basis” based on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to which Beijing is a signatory, after the Philippines, which also claims parts of the South China Sea, took legal action against Beijing.
Beijing has not recognized the ruling and has continued to build artificial islands that are capable of landing military vessels and aircraft.
Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, and Taiwan also claim parts of the South China Sea.