The Guardian | Dan Sabbagh, Wed 17 Nov 2021
A British F-35 pilot flying from the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier had to eject during a routine operation over the Mediterranean, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has said.
The pilot was picked up but the £100m stealth jet crashed into the sea during the incident, which took place at about 10am UK time. No other vessels or aircraft were involved, defence sources said.
The accident took place shortly after the F-35 took off, the defence secretary, Ben Wallace, said, but despite the incident other operational and training flights involving the jets were carrying on for the moment.
An MoD spokesperson said: “A British F-35 pilot from HMS Queen Elizabeth ejected during routine flying operations in the Mediterranean this morning. 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.”
An immediate priority is recovery of the wreckage, with the UK keen to ensure the lost aircraft does not end up in the hands of a hostile state such as Russia.
HMS Queen Elizabeth is returning to the UK after a long deployment that has taken it through the Indian Ocean to the Pacific and back. Eight British and 10 US F-35Bs were deployed onboard before Wednesday.
Britain agreed to buy 48 F-35Bs from the US military company Lockheed Martin, at a cost of £6bn by 2025. Of those, 24 have been delivered.
It is the first accident involving an RAF F-35B, although there have been a handful of previous accidents involving the fighter jets in the past three years. The most similar crash happened in September 2018, involving an F-35B, when the pilot, a US Marine, had to eject in South Carolina. Faulty engine tubes were blamed.
Jets from HMS Queen Elizabeth previously participated in strikes against the remnants of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
The crash will be investigated by the Defence Accident Investigation Branch, which usually takes several weeks before producing an initial report. A final report typically takes about a year to complete.