An F/A-18 Super Hornet assigned to Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 1, embarked aboard USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), blew overboard due to unexpected heavy weather in the Mediterranean Sea on July 8, 2022.
No one was aboard the fighter jet, which can fly faster than the speed of sound, or up to 1,190 mph.
The carrier was conducting a replenishment-at-sea, which was safely terminated through established procedures.
All personnel aboard the ship are accounted for but the incident raises questions about what kind of weather could have possibly dislodged a jet that weighs more than 32,000 pounds.
One sailor received minor injuries while conducting operations during the unexpected heavy weather. The sailor is in stable condition and expected to make a full recovery.
The Pentagon saud the USS Harry S. Truman and its embarked aircraft remain fully mission capable. Two days before the mishap, the crew hosted the Prime Minister of North Macedonia Dimitar Kovacevski, and other distinguished visitors from the NATO member nation.
Details and the cause of the incident are under investigation.
“This is an extremely unusual event,” said David Titley, who served as the commander of the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command in his 32-year career with the Navy, in an email. “U.S. Navy ships and aircraft are designed and built to withstand heavy weather, which they do on a routine basis.”
The Navy did not release the exact location of the incident, but two days before, the Defense Department tweeted that a Super Hornet had broken the sound barrier over the Ionian Sea, which is adjacent to Italy’s southeast coast and is part of the Mediterranean.
Before the incident, a brutal, prolonged heat wave gripped Italy, breaking many records. Rome and Florence saw their hottest June days on record. The heat was also tied to an ice avalanche in the Italian Alps that killed 11 hikers on July 3.
But Thursday marked the end of the heat wave as a strong cold front swept across the country and the Ionian Sea from the north. Computer models simulated ocean waves building to eight feet.
These models also showed an intense zone of low pressure and cold air at high altitudes passing over the sea, contrasting sharply with abnormally warm sea surface temperatures. The sea surface temperatures were up to 7.2 degrees (4 Celsius) warmer than normal — meeting the criteria for an ocean heat wave, according to the Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change.
The contrast between temperatures at the ocean surface and high in the air might have created an exceptionally unstable atmosphere conducive for thunderstorms.
Intense thunderstorms are known for unleashing downward blasts of violent winds or “microbursts” that slam into the ground and fan outward. Microburst winds can top 100 mph and generate damage comparable to tornadoes.
Microbursts infamously led to multiple aviation accidents in the 1980s and 1990s, but the development of early-warning systems have all but halted such crashes.
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