On Friday, during a transit of the Celebes Sea, an F/A 18E fighter of Carrier Air Wing 2 crashed during a final approach to the deck of the U.S. Navy carrier USS Carl Vinson. The pilot successfully ejected and was recovered by a rescue helicopter; the Navy said in a statement that he is being assessed by the Vinson's medical team and shows no apparent sign of injury.
The Vinson's location and itinerary have been the subject of controversy in recent days: on Saturday, a photo published on Flickr showed her in the Sunda Strait when she was widely believed to be approaching the Korean Peninsula, some 3,000 nm to the north.
Last week, U.S. Pacific Command, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Press Secretary Sean Spicer and President Donald Trump all gave indications that the Vinson had been diverted from Singapore to the Sea of Japan in advance of a series of North Korean holidays (a standard occasion for the DPRK's weapons tests). Instead, Vinson headed south to the Indian Ocean to participate in scheduled exercises with the Australian Navy. Defense Department and White House sources indicated that the confusion stemmed from an ill-timed, vague press release, poor coordination and an incorrect announcement from Mattis, who initially suggested that the joint exercises had been canceled.
The Navy's statement on the fighter crash put the Vinson in the Celebes Sea, indicating that she headed east at some point after her well-publicized transit of the Sunda Strait. If she sailed from the strait to the Celebes Sea, her voyage to Korea would be several hundred nm longer than the shortest possible route, which would pass through the South China Sea.