Fears that subs from China, which claims the area, could be first to reach wreckage that plunged from deck of aircraft carrier

The F-35C crashed-landed on the deck of the USS Carl Vinson during routine operations on Monday, the navy said, injuring six sailors and the pilot, who ejected from the plane before it fell into the sea.

The most advanced US fighter, a stealth plane costing over $100m, is packed with highly classified technology and if found would represent an intelligence boon for China, which claims almost all of the South China Sea as its own territory. The Vinson was on a patrol intended to challenge that territorial claim and defend international freedom of navigation.

The F-35C is a version of the plane specially designed to operate from aircraft carriers. Maritime experts have said it could take a US salvage ship more than 10 days to reach the site of the crash, potentially giving Chinese submarines the opportunity to find it first.

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