The US Navy has charged five sailors for allegedly leaking footage showing the moment a sophisticated fighter jet crash-landed on an aircraft carrier parked south of China in late January.
A senior chief, an ensign, and three chief petty officers were each charged for violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the Navy confirmed to media outlets on Friday, declining to name the accused.
“The investigation into the unauthorized release of the shipboard video footage has concluded,” Naval Air Forces spokesman Commander Zach Harrell told Military.com in a statement, noting that the sailors were charged for failure to obey a lawful order.
The incident in question occurred on January 24, in which a US Navy F-35C crash-landed on the deck of the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier at an undisclosed location in the South China Sea. While six sailors were injured as the plane skidded off the ship’s deck, the pilot was able to eject safely.
Images of the crash began circulating online within days of the accident, including a photo of the damaged jet floating in the sea as well as a brief video of the F-35 as it approached for landing. The particular footage linked to the charges was the most recent to surface on social media – first appearing on February 6, according Military.com – though the Navy spokesman said no charges will be filed for the first two leaks.
“That was the determination made by the commanding officer of the USS Carl Vinson based upon the findings of the respective investigations,” he said of the decision not to punish the previous unauthorized leaks.
A military spokesman further told USNI News that the most recent leak was considered “a government document released without being properly cleared,” while the other images were treated differently, as they were captured by “a personal device.”
Beyond confirming the authenticity of the images making the rounds online, the Navy has released few details about the crash, saying only that “recovery operations arrangements” were in the works for the ill-fated fighter in late January.
The US military’s latest multi-purpose fighter jet, the F-35, has seen a long series of problems throughout its lifetime, including development delays, cost overruns, and equipment malfunctions. Earlier this year, South Korea – one among several nations to purchase the plane – was forced to ground its entire F-35 fleet after a landing gear fault resulted in a belly-landing at a Korean airbase. Another F-35 operated by the UK crashed into the Mediterranean Sea last November as it attempted takeoff from an aircraft carrier, reportedly caused after the plane sucked a rain cover into its own engine.
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