ABOARD THE USS AMERICA -- A sailor is safe after falling off the flight deck of this amphibious assault ship in choppy waters.
The incident happened on Monday as Marine Corps F-35B Joint Strike Fighters began a final phase of shipboard developmental testing for the aircraft ahead of the first deployment of a squadron forward to Japan early next year. One of the factors being tested was how the aircraft performed in high sea states, so the America was operating in swells of four to six feet off the San Diego coast.
The sailor fell off the starboard side of the ship around 1 p.m., shortly after the arrival of a group of reporters covering the F-35 testing. He was in the water for between seven and eight minutes, an official told Military.com. An MH-60S Seahawk chopper that had already been conducting operations in the air above the America was called on to recover the sailor, deploying a rescue swimmer that brought him in.
Testing aboard the America paused as the ship took accountability of all crew members.
Although tossed by the water, the sailor was unhurt, an official said, and walked off the helicopter onto the flight deck on his own. He was taken to medical aboard the ship to assess his condition, officials said.
Incidents in which sailors fall overboard are extremely rare. This was the first for the America, which joined the fleet in 2014.
In a message to all aboard the ship, the commander of the America, Capt. Joseph Olson thanked the America’s search and rescue detachment. He warned the other sailors not to be outside on catwalks and narrow passageways while the ship operated in choppy seas.
The America will continue facilitating developmental test operations for the F-35 for the next three weeks.