Carrier returns home with RAF Marham jets

Undated handout photo issued by the Ministry of Defence of an F-35B taking off from HMS Queen Elizab

Jets from 617 Squadron depart HMS Queen Elizabeth and Carrier Strike Group 21(CSG21) for the final time. - Credit: POPhot Jay Allen/MoD

RAF Marham's 617 Squadron is sailing home from a first operational deployment which has been dogged by incidents including the loss of a £100m warplane.

The aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, with seven warships and a submarine, set off from Portsmouth Naval Base following a visit by the Queen in May for its show-of-force voyage to the Far East.

But the ships and their combined crew of 3,700 sailors faced several incidents, both diplomatic and technical, during the 25,000 nautical mile round trip.

The carrier had originally been expected to return to Portsmouth on December 10, but the arrival was brought forward by a day because of concerns about the weather.

The most serious incident of the deployment happened in November when an F35 Lightning jet crashed into the Mediterranean after tumbling off the edge of HMS Queen Elizabeth's flight deck.

The pilot ejected and was found safe, but the state-of-the-art fighter jet sank the bottom of the sea and had to be recovered.

A member of the £3bn carrier's crew has been arrested on suspicion of leaking video footage of the incident.

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The jets from the 617 'Dambusters' Squadron are now expected to return to Marham.

A visit to the carrier by Prince Charles scheduled for a few days later was cancelled following the incident.

Earlier in the voyage, Type 45 destroyer HMS Defender was involved in a stand-off with the Russian navy after it sailed close to Crimea in June.

The Russian government claimed warning shots were fired by Russian vessels at the destroyer as it passed through the contested part of the Black Sea last week.

Eyewitness accounts revealed that Defender, which is also returning to Portsmouth on December 9, was buzzed by Russian military jets and the sound of naval gunfire could be heard as it sailed from Odessa in Ukraine to Georgia.

In July, a number of ships in the CSG, including the carrier, experienced a Covid-19 outbreak despite all the crew being double-vaccinated.

The voyage culminated in the carrier taking part in a joint exercise with warships from the US, the Netherlands, Canada and Japan before arriving in Yokosuka.

The exercise was part of efforts to achieve a "free and open Indo-Pacific" vision led by Washington and Tokyo.

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