A US F-18 fighter jet crash landed at Bahrain's international airport Saturday, causing the complete closure of the island's main commercial flight hub. Photos and brief video footage quickly posted online shows a badly damaged but intact jet with its tail on the ground and nose in the air in a gravel area located completely off the runway.
According to a statement by Navy Cmdr. Bill Urban, the jet suffered engine trouble after taking off from the USS Nimitz in the Persian Gulf and attempted to make it to Sheikh Isa Air Base in Bahrain but instead had to attempt an emergency landing at the busy commercial airport. The pilot ejected as the jet skidded off the runway and escaped unharmed.
US Navy Super Hornet at Bahrain International Airport. Image: Twitter
Bahrain, which is connected by bridge to Saudi Arabia, is home to the US Navy’s 5th Fleet and about 8,000 US military personnel which are mostly attached to the island nation's Naval Support Activity base, which monitors and supports all 20+ US and coalition naval vessels in the Persian Gulf. Britain is also currently constructing a major base on the island.
The airport shut down for about 7 hours and Bahrain's Ministry of Transportation and Telecommunications said that no one was injured in the crash.
Bahrain and allies Kuwait and the UAE are geographically at the forefront of a pro-Sunni GCC arch (Gulf Cooperation Council) along the Persian Gulf, which seek to maintain a collective barrier against Iranian interests. US military presence in these countries is considered vital by the host nations in ensuring both defensive posture against Iran and stability against Shia opposition groups and popular movements at home.
The Persian Gulf has been increasingly busy in terms of military and naval activity over the past years, with the potential for highly visible provocations between Western vessels and Iran on the rise. A 2016 incident in which an Iranian boat intercepted two US Navy patrol boats on their way to Bahrain resulted in the brief arrest and detention of ten US service members by Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards. At the time US media presented the incident as an Iranian act of aggression, though a US Navy investigation later confirmed that the US boats were in Iranian territorial waters after having violated dozens of Navy protocols. A total of nine officer and enlisted personnel were later disciplined over the incident - with some officers being relieved of their command - which reportedly embarrassed the White House shortly before Obama's last State of the Union address.