A British F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter of the new Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth (RO8), operating in a routine joint exercise with the United States, has crashed into the eastern Mediterranean Sea, the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) said in a statement on Wednesday.

The pilot was able to eject from the stricken aircraft and was picked up and returned safely to the carrier.

“A British F-35 pilot from HMS Queen Elizabeth ejected during routine flying operations in the Mediterranean this morning,” read the MoD statement.

A source from the Royal Navy said the accident occurred shortly after the pilot took off from the carrier.

“The pilot has been safely returned to the ship and an investigation has begun, so it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.” The accident occurred at 10:00 a.m. London time. No other aircraft were involved. 

The Royal Navy’s next priority is the recovery of the wreckage to ensure that the F-35B doesn’t end up in the hands of a hostile power such as Russia or China.

The F-35B is a short-take-off and the vertical-landing jet with an estimated cost of $134 million. It was one of eight British aircraft deployed on the HMS Queen Elizabeth as it returned from a long deployment to the Pacific.

The aircraft was one of Britain’s 24 F-35s. The country has ordered 24 more and has pledged to purchase 138 in total, although that number is likely to be reduced due to budgetary constraints. 

F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike FIghter
A British F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter similar to this one crashed in the Med shortly after takeoff from the HMS Queen Elizabeth. (Royal Navy)

Ten U.S. Marine F-35B’s from the Wake Island Avengers of U.S. Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211 along with the eight British F-35Bs from the Royal Air Force’s 617 Squadron The Dambusters are also deployed on HMS Queen Elizabeth. Both the RAF and Royal Navy fly the F-35B. 

The HMS Queen Elizabeth has taken part in airstrikes against Islamic State terrorists in Iraq and Syria. 

This is the first accident involving a British F-35B.

The U.S. had a similar accident in 2018 when a U.S. Marine F-35B crashed off the coast of Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, SC. In that case, a faulty fuel line was blamed as the cause of the accident. Last year an F-35B crashed in California when the fighter collided with a KC-130 tanker during an air refueling exercise. 

Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the F-35B Lightning II released a statement to USNI News saying that it is “standing by to support the Ministry of Defence as needed. An investigation is underway and further information on the incident will be released when appropriate.”

The crash is being investigated by the British Defence Accident Investigation Branch.

The F-35 has a top speed of Mach 1.6 at altitude, a range of 1,400 nautical miles, and carries a 1 × 25 mm (0.984 in) GAU-22/A 4-barrel rotary cannon, with 180 rounds and 4 × internal stations, 6 × external stations on wings with a capacity of 5,700 pounds (2,600 kg) internal, 15,000 pounds (6,800 kg) external, 18,000 pounds (8,200 kg) total weapons payload, with provisions to carry combinations of air-to-air missiles, air-to-surface missiles, anti-ship missiles, bombs, joint strike (JDAM) munitions, and nuclear weapons.