A British F-35B Lightning Joint Strike Fighter that crashed upon takeoff from the new Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth (RO8) has been located on the ocean floor. 

The Ministry of Defense announced that the wreckage was found after an exhaustive search by British and American naval assets. Russian naval forces have also been scouring the area from their base in Tartus, Syria. The Russians are trying to get a piece of the skin of the aircraft to study its stealth technology. 

On Tuesday the British National Security Adviser Sir Stephen Lovegrove spoke to the Commons Defence Committee telling them that the wreckage has been found but not yet lifted. 

British F-35B taking off from the HMS Queen Elizabeth. (Royal Navy)

“The pilot was recovered safely and is still undergoing medical checks. We are hopefully (sic) that he will be absolutely fine. It would be premature of me to comment on the reasons for the accident.” 

Speaking about the recovery efforts and the investigation to find the cause of the accident, Longrove added that “The recovery of the flight data recorder and the wreckage are really vital for an accurate investigation to determine the causes of the crash. 

“Clearly, the swift recovery of the aircraft is what we would like to do and we are working closely with allies on the mechanics of that, but I can’t go into too much detail about it for reasons of operational security. We haven’t got the plane up yet.”

“We are aware of Russian undersea capabilities, he said.  “The kinds of precautions and operations that we are undertaking at the moment are designed at least in part to ensure that the technology of the F-35B remains as confidential as you would like it to be. Those security aspects are very much at the top of our minds. My understanding is that the experts know where the aircraft is.”

The F-35B crashed during a joint exercise with the United States in the Mediterranean Sea. It was the first accident involving a British F-35B. 

A video leaked to a defense commenter on Twitter (@Sebh1981), and which appears to have been made from a cell phone, shows accident footage being played back on a computer. Visible at the top of the monitor is “Visual Surveillance System” which would mean that this was part of the video from the carrier’s own closed-circuit TV system. 

The video footage shows the aircraft losing speed as it approached the ski jump ramp. The pilot recognized that the aircraft has lost power, used his ejection seat just as the jet topples over the end of the ship. The pilot’s parachute deploys but soon gets caught on the bow of the carrier.

It is believed that a plastic rain cover that covers the air intakes of the aircraft may have been the culprit as it may have been sucked into the engine. Those rain covers are supposed to be removed prior to flight operations. Reports surfaced that the ship’s crew recovered one of those rain covers from the sea. The rain cover may have come from the aircraft that crashed or from another nearby F-35B. The results from the official crash investigation have not been released yet.  

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” were also deployed on HMS Queen Elizabeth. Both the RAF and Royal Navy fly the F-35B. 

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

The wreckage took time to find because investigators believe that after the aircraft slipped beneath the surface of the ocean, its wings allowed it to glide for quite some distance before it settled to the ocean’s floor. 

The British government has asked the U.S. for assistance as the U.S. Navy has salvage equipment located in Spain that could assist in raising the wreckage. 

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