The wreckage of an F-35 fighter jet that dropped off the edge of HMS Queen Elizabeth has been recovered from the depths of the Mediterranean.
It comes after a seven-day operation by British, Italian, and American crews to prevent it and its sophisticated radar and sensors from falling into hostile hands.
Defence sources were “pleasantly surprised” at how quick the recovery was, and they are “confident” the F-35’s sensitive equipment has not been compromised.
It is understood that the jet was more than a mile underwater after toppling off the runway of the aircraft carrier last month.
It had fallen into the sea without ever getting airborne, according to leaked footage, and the pilot had ejected safely.
It is not clear what caused the crash but one theory put forward is that something – such as a plastic rain cover – may have been sucked into the aircraft’s engine, prompting it to fail.
It is understood that the wreckage will be taken to a naval base in the Mediterranean and, although sources said this base belongs to an “ally”, no further information was given.
A Ministry of Defence spokesperson told Sky News: “Operations to recover the UK F-35 in the Mediterranean Sea have successfully concluded.
“We extend our thanks to our NATO allies, Italy and the United States of America for their support during the recovery operation.”
Meanwhile, a sailor has reportedly been arrested for leaking a 16-second video clip of the F-35 crash.
The footage appeared on Twitter soon after the incident, after someone held a phone up to a computer screen to copy a CCTV recording from HMS Queen Elizabeth’s control tower.
The arrested sailor has been removed from the aircraft carrier, the MailOnline reported, adding that, while the film was poor quality and not operationally sensitive, it still angered naval chiefs.
The F-35 had been among eight similar aircraft aboard the HMS Queen Elizabeth at the time.