The U.S. Navy successfully recovered an F-35C fighter jet that crashed into the South China Sea in January, the 7th Fleet announced. Photo by U.S. Navy/UPI | License Photo
March 4 (UPI) -- The United States Navy said that it successfully retrieved an F-35C Lightning II stealth fighter jet that crashed into the hotly contested South China Sea earlier this year while attempting to land on an aircraft carrier.
The wreckage was lifted from a depth of more than 12,000 feet, the Navy's 7th Fleet said in a statement Thursday.
Retrieving the $100 million jet eases concerns that it could have been seized by China to study or replicate its technology. Beijing claims sovereignty over much of the South China Sea, an assertion that the United States rejects and was dismissed by an international tribunal in 2016.
The F-35 jet had a "landing mishap" on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson during routine operations on Jan. 24, the Navy said after the accident.
Leaked video footage later showed a wing of the jet clipping the deck of the carrier before the plane skidded and fell over the side. Seven sailors were injured, including the pilot who safely ejected. The cause of the crash remains under investigation.
The recovery team used a remote-operated vehicle to attach rigging and lift lines to the aircraft and then raised it using a ship's crane during the operation on Wednesday, the 7th Fleet said.
"The aircraft will be delivered to a nearby military installation to aid in the ongoing investigation and evaluated for potential transport to the United States," the 7th Fleet said. "The recovery effort shows the U.S. Navy commitment to its assets, and a free and open Indo-Pacific."
China's increased assertiveness over disputed territories in the South China Sea as well as its frequent military provocations toward Taiwan have led the U.S. Navy to ramp up its freedom-of-navigation operations in the region.
The F-35C, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, is the newest and most advanced jet in the Navy's fleet. The variant is the world's only long-range stealth fighter built for aircraft carrier operations.