U.S. Navy Recovers the Fighter That Blew Off the Deck of USS Truman

SUPSALV's CURV ROV (USN file image)

Published Aug 8, 2022 9:30 PM by The Maritime Executive

U.S. Navy salvors have recovered the wreck of the F/A-18 Hornet that blew over the side of the carrier USS Harry S. Truman in the Mediterranean last month. 

According to the Navy, an F/A-18 assigned to Carrier Air Wing 1 blew off the deck of the Harry S. Truman on July 8 during "unexpected heavy weather." At the time, the carrier was conduction a replenishment-at-sea operation, which was terminated safely after the loss of the plane. 

Losing an aircraft at sea presents the risk of disclosing classified information to a capable adversary, particularly if the aircraft goes down slowly and remains largely intact. This is a substantial intelligence risk for cutting edge stealth aircraft like the F-35, but even a well-used F/A-18E Super Hornet contains valuable clues for foreign intelligence. When a plane goes to the bottom, Naval Sea Systems Command's Supervisor of Salvage and Diving (SUPSALV) often gets called in to raise it to keep the technology from falling into the wrong hands.

This time, a joint team from 6th Fleet, SUPSALV, Harry S. Truman, Naval Strike Fighter Wing Atlantic, and specialty salvage company Phoenix International loaded up a work-class ROV aboard the MPV Everest and went to retrieve the plane. Phoenix's team found it sitting in 9,500 feet of water in the Mediterranean, within reach for a well-equipped bad actor. Using SUPSALV's ROV, they attached rigging and lift lines to the aircraft, hooked it to Everest's crane and hoisted it on board (left, courtesy Phoenix International).

"The rapid response of the combined team, including SUPSALV and Phoenix International personnel, allowed us to conduct safe recovery operations within 27 days of the incident," said Lt. Miguel Lewis, U.S. Sixth Fleet salvage officer.  "Our task tailored team operated safely and efficiently to meet the timeline."

In February, a SUPSALV team aboard the MPV Picasso recovered a much pricier F-35 from the deep waters of the Pacific. The advanced fighter jet crashed on landing and slid off the deck of the carrier USS Carl Vinson in the South China Sea in January.

Early this year, the U.S. Navy also assisted the Royal Navy in recovering a UK-operated F-35 that had been lost over the side of the carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth. The fighter went into the Mediterranean in November 2021 after a takeoff accident. Unofficially, investigators told UK tabloid The Sun that the F-35's engine may have inhaled a plastic rain cover which had accidentally been left on the plane before takeoff.