Five sailors are facing charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice for their alleged roles in the leak of footage showing an F-35C Lightning II crashing on the flight deck of USS Carl Vinson last month.
The accident happened during routine flight operations Jan. 24 in the South China Sea. The pilot and six sailors on board the carrier were injured, the U.S. Navy said.
The sailors facing charges include a Senior Chief, three Chiefs and a Junior Officer, according to Navy spokesperson Cmdr. Zach Harrell.
“There is an ongoing investigation into the crash. The investigation into the unauthorized release of the shipboard video footage has concluded; one U.S. Navy O-1 [Ensign], one E-8 [Senior Chief Petty Officer], and three E-7s [Chief Petty Officer] have been charged under Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice,” Harrell said.
“We remain grateful to the highly trained Sailors aboard Carl Vinson who immediately responded to ensure that the pilot was recovered from the water, all injured personnel were cared for, and flight deck was cleared and re-set for operations. After a short pause in accordance with safety procedures, the rapid response from the crew enabled flight operations resume with minimal impact to mission requirements.”
Multiple footage sources first appeared on social media in early February and were was verified by the Navy last week. The charges levied on the sailors stem from the leak of footage recorded by an on-ship camera system pilots use to guide their landing, which the Navy considers government property.
The footage shows the vantage points of two flight deck cameras. The first is a deck-level camera that shows the jet approaching the stern and then bottoming out on the flight deck. Debris flies, the jet tilts upward on its nose and slides across the deck past the camera.
The second camera is positioned higher and shows a slightly wider view of the crash. Upon contact with the deck, fire engulfs the tail of the jet as it slides the length of the carrier, falls over the edge and splashes into the sea. Frantic radio communications can be heard in the background, and sailors can be seen rushing toward the end of the flight deck while others spray the deck down with hoses.
The second leaked video appears to have been recorded on a phone or a hand-held camera from the stern of the ship, at or below the flight deck. The video stops right as the jet moves out of frame, and just after the sound of impact and the emergence of a cloud of smoke.
Another photo posted to Twitter shows the fighter jet in the ocean following the crash with debris floating nearby.
On the day of the crash, the Navy said the pilot and two sailors were flown off the ship to a hospital in Manila, Philippines. Hours later Navy spokesperson Lt. Mark Langford told NBC 7 all three sailors were in stable condition.
The other four injured sailors were treated on the ship, Lt. Langford said.
USS Carl Vinson returned to San Diego from a months-long deployment on Valentine's Day. Before shipping off to the South China Sea, the carrier was given a $367 million retrofit so it could accommodate the F-35C Lightning II, which the Navy calls the world’s most advanced fighter jet.