Video Showing Harrowing F-35 Crash Aboard USS Carl Vinson Leaked (Updated)

The video shows an F-35C slamming into the ship and careening down the landing area ablaze before falling into the water.

byTyler Rogoway|
USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) photo


What appears to be a smartphone video of a monitor that is playing closed-circuit camera system footage of the January 24th crash of an F-35C aboard the USS Carl Vinson has emerged online. The carrier was sailing in the tumultuous South China Sea at the time that the jet from VFA-147, the 'Argonauts,' crashed during a landing attempt aboard the ship. This is the second video to emerge that has supposedly shown the landing attempt in question. However, this one, which includes the in-deck Pilot's Landing Aid Television (PLAT), as well as a video shot from the ship's Island Camera Room, gives us a full look at the actual incident, not just the moments leading up to it.

We must stress that this video's authenticity remains unconfirmed from an official source, although it appears to fit the circumstances of the crash, as well as with another confirmed video previously leaked of the aircraft making its doomed approach that was shot from the fantail of the ship. Still, the facts surrounding the authenticity of this video could change.

UPDATE: The video has been proclaimed authentic by the U.S. Navy.

That being said, it shows a grim sequence of events. The F-35C appears to settle into a low power state during the final moments of its approach, with frantic calls from the Landing Signal Officer to add power/select burner and to wave-off just before the aircraft slams into the deck. It looks like at least one of its main landing gear is sheared off in the impact and the jet goes careening sideways down the landing area trailing flames before falling into the water in front of the ship.

The new video supposedly shows closed-circuit footage of the crash:

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The leaked video shot from the fantail of the USS Carl Vinson of the moments leading up to the crash that the Navy has confirmed as authentic:

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While the scene is horrific, it is amazing how fast the crash crew swarms the landing area and starts spraying foam in order to stave off a potential fire. Truly amazing work here. Clearly, their training had them ready to go at the instant trouble reared its ugly head. 

We also hear the call that there is a pilot in the water and we don't clearly see the ejection. This may point to it happening after the jet has hit the water. It just isn't clear at this time, but we know they did eject and that they survived. 

Seven sailors were hurt in this event, but looking at this video, it's pretty amazing more weren't and that everyone survived their initial injuries. 

Still, assuming this video is as authentic as it appears to be, lots of unanswered questions remain and the Navy's investigation will try to answer them. But above all else, the video is a stark reminder that carrier aviation remains a dangerous business, no matter how routine talented aviators and sailors make it look. Oftentimes, we hear the anecdote that things can go from normal to terrifying in the blink of an eye — that things happen fast in carrier operations. The video is yet another piece of evidence of how true that axiom is. And this is not just the case on some dark and stormy night or after a combat mission over enemy territory. It can happen suddenly on a bright and sunny day in calm waters, deep into a carrier's cruise. 

Finally, there is another story here about how a ship with thousands of people onboard can maintain confidential information in a smartphone and social media age. Both in this case and in the case of F-35B crash off the HMS Queen Elizabeth, leaked crash footage emerged in remarkably the same fashion. In fact, in the case of the F-35C crash, we got a picture of the jet in the water first, and in the case of the F-35B crash, we even got a recovery image of the jet after it was pulled from the seafloor. These leaks are happening during a time of peace, but what about more sensitive information during a time of war? 

On the other hand, maybe the Navy should be more forthcoming about releasing videos of incidents that do not give away any highly sensitive information as it seems as if it will just leak anyway outside of their control. 

This is all something to think about considering the pattern of recent events. 

As for the hulk of the F-35C that now resides on the seafloor, a salvage operation is underway. The uniquely sensitive nature of any F-35 variant, especially an intact airframe, and the location where the mishap occurred, in the South China Sea where China has a massive amount of its naval capabilities, makes the operation especially urgent

We will continue to keep you informed as to how this ongoing story plays out.

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