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Video: Royal Navy F-35 Crashes on Takeoff Aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth

queen elizabeth
A successful F-35 takeoff aboard Queen Elizabeth (Royal Navy file image)

Published Nov 30, 2021 1:23 PM by The Maritime Executive

A UK defense analyst has obtained video footage of the recent F-35 fighter crash aboard the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth. The takeoff accident in the Mediterranean resulted in a $115 million loss, and it has prompted a multinational race to salvage the plane's top-secret components from the seafloor. 

In the video, the phrase "visual surveillance" is visible in the top of the frame, suggesting it was obtained by a security camera. The footage begins with the ill-fated stealth jet starting its run towards Queen Elizabeth's ski-jump bow ramp. As the plane reaches the apex of the ramp, it appears to slow, and there is a blast as the pilot ejects. The plane immediately plummets into the water, followed by the pilot's slow descent by parachute. 

No injuries were reported and the pilot was safely retrieved. An official investigation into the cause of the casualty is under way, and the UK Ministry of Defence has stated that "it would be inappropriate to comment further" until more is known. 

Unofficially, investigators have told UK tabloid The Sun that the F-35's engine may have inhaled a plastic rain cover that had accidentally been left on the plane before takeoff. 

The U.S. Navy has deployed a salvage vessel and an experienced team to help the Royal Navy recover the wreck of the plane. UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has declined questions about whether Russian assets might also be targeting the wreck; Russia is well-known for operating seabed retrieval submarines for covert intelligence-gathering purposes, and the F-35 is full of cutting-edge technology. "I am not going to talk about what we do or don't know, but I think we are pretty much on top of the situation," Wallace told Sky News.

The UK plans to buy a total of 48 F-35 fighters, but defense secretary Ben Wallace has warned the plane's manufacturers that his office may slow down purchases if vendors can't get runaway maintenance costs under control. 

“Its important for me to say to BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin and all the other [contractors] that ‘It’s in your interest to keep through-life support costs down’ because simply, I don’t want to be held to a massive bill I can’t get out of,” he said in June.