Royal Navy in a race against time with the Russians to recover crashed F-35 after wreckage is found in the Mediterranean

RECOVERY teams hunting for an F-35 which crashed moments after taking off from HMS Queen Elizabeth have found the wreckage of the stealth jet, MPs have been told.

By Tom Cotterill
Wednesday, 1st December 2021, 11:25 am
Updated Wednesday, 1st December 2021, 11:26 am
An aircraft handler pictured directing an F-35B Lighting jet into position on HMS Queen Elizabeth
An aircraft handler pictured directing an F-35B Lighting jet into position on HMS Queen Elizabeth

The state-of-the-art warplane plummeted into the Mediterranean last week moments after launching from the ski ramp of the Portsmouth-based aircraft carrier.

The pilot, from the RAF’s 617 Squadron, ejected safely from the jet before it crashed and is currently still undergoing medical assessments.

Now top officials from the Ministry of Defence have revealed that they know the location of the £100m jet – but are in a race against time with the Russians, who are eager to secure the secretive tech inside the F-35.

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Speaking during the Commons defence committee meeting yesterday, national security adviser Sir Stephen Lovegrove said the Russians had hi-tech gear which could be used to collect confidential kit from the aircraft.

Speaking to MPs about the situation, he said: ‘Clearly the swift recovery of the aircraft is what we would like to do and we are working closely with allies on the mechanics of that. We haven’t got the plane up yet.

‘We are aware of Russian undersea capabilities, and you are quite right to identify them as being state-of-the-art.

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‘The kinds of precautions and operations that we are undertaking at the moment are designed at least in part to ensure that the technology of the F-35B remains as confidential as you would like it to be.

‘Those security aspects are very much at the top of our mind. My understanding is that the experts know where the aircraft is.’

The Ministry of Defence is still investigating the cause of the incident, with unconfirmed reports suggesting that a plastic rain cover, left on the jet before take-off, could have been the cause.

Speaking of the crash and investigation, Sir Lovegrove added: ‘The pilot was recovered safely and is still undergoing medical checks. We are hopeful that he will be absolutely fine.

‘It would be premature of me to comment on the reasons for the accident. The recovery of the flight data recorder and the wreckage are really vital for an accurate investigation to determine the causes of the crash.’

HMS Queen Elizabeth is on her final leg home. The £3.2bn aircraft carrier is expected to arrive in Portsmouth later this month, having sailed to the Far East and back on her maiden operational mission.

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