By Jojo Riñoza
Seven servicemen were injured in a fighter-jet accident aboard an American aircraft carrier in the South China Sea, the U.S. Navy said.
The “landing mishap” occurred aboard the USS Carl Vinson on Monday but the pilot safely ejected from his plane and was recovered by a U.S. military helicopter, the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s public affairs office said in a statement issued from Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Three of the injured sailors from the Carl Vinson were rushed to a hospital in Manila where they were in stable condition, while four were treated on-board by medical personnel, it said. The statement also listed the pilot as being in “stable condition.”
“An F-35C Lightning II, assigned to Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 2, had a landing mishap on deck while USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) was conducting routine flight operations in the South China Sea, Jan. 24,” the statement said.
It said the “cause of the in-flight mishap” was being investigated. Additional details were not made public.
The Carl Vinson is among two U.S. carrier groups that have been conducting maneuvers this week in the contested South China Sea amid tensions between China and Taiwan.
In Manila, a Philippine official who did not want to be named because he was not authorized to speak about the incident said the U.S. had not contacted the Philippine military about it. If the American aircraft carrier was operating in the South China Sea, it likely was sailing outside Philippine territory, the source said.
The U.S. Embassy in Manila could not immediately be reached for comment.
Freedom of navigation
The U.S. Navy and Air Force periodically conduct “freedom of navigation operations,” or FONOPs, to challenge China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. Beijing has criticized these operations and accused Washington of provoking conflict.
On Sunday, China dispatched 39 military aircraft into Taiwan’s air zone, the same day that the USS Carl Vinson and the USS Abraham Lincoln launched a FONOP in the South China Sea.
Taiwan said it scrambled fighters and issued radio warnings while air-defense missile systems were deployed to track the Chinese aircraft incursions, the largest since October 2021.
That occurred as the U.S. Navy was conducting joint drills with British and Japanese ships near Okinawa. The Chinese military sent 145 fighter planes to Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone, prompting the Taiwanese minister of defense to say cross-strait tensions were “at their worst in 40 years.”
Also in October 2021, three aircraft carriers and other warships from the U.S., joined by ships from the United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, New Zealand and the Netherlands sailed on the fringes of the South China Sea.
The Philippines has supported a new U.S.-led defense pact with the U.K. and Australia that it hoped would address a military imbalance in Southeast Asia despite concerns aired by Malaysia and Indonesia.
China, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan have claims to territories in the South China Sea. While Jakarta does not regard itself as party to the South China Sea dispute, Beijing does claim historic rights to areas overlapping Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone.