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The entire fleet of F-35 stealth jets is to be checked for a fault following a crash in the US last month.

The post-crash investigation, carried out after a plane came down in South Carolina, identified a faulty fuel tube.

As a result the global fleet is on an “operational pause”.

Each £150m aircraft must now be checked before being cleared to fly again – with each check taking up to six hours.

It is a hugely embarrassing turn of events for the programme and has been described to Sky News by a senior defence industry source as a “cock up of epic proportions”.

Smoke rises at the site of a F-35 jet crash in Beaufort, South Carolina
Image:
Smoke rises at the site of a F-35 jet crash in Beaufort, South Carolina

In a statement, F-35 programme spokesman Joe DellaVedova said the checks should be complete by the end of the week, adding: “If suspect fuel tubes are installed, the part will be removed and replaced.

“If known good fuel tubes are already installed, then those aircraft will be returned to flight status.

“Inspections are expected to be completed within the next 24 to 48 hours.”

Depending on how many aircraft are affected, the future progress of the programme – which is already the most expensive in history – could be in jeopardy.

The programme is led by the Pentagon but Britain is its only tier one partner.

Britain has 16 F-35B jets and has pledged to buy 138 in total.










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HMS Queen Elizabeth welcomes F-35B fighter jets on decks

The faulty part is believed to have been made by US engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney.

Pratt & Whitney would only say in a statement that they are “supporting the US Marine Corp investigation into the incident”.

The Royal Navy has told Sky News that one of the F-35s onboard the new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth has been checked and is flying again.

The F-35s stationed at RAF Marham in Norfolk are yet to be checked but are not due to fly this week.

“Safety is our paramount concern, therefore the UK has decided to pause some F-35 flying as a precautionary measure while we consider the findings of an ongoing enquiry,” an MoD spokesman said.

“F-35 flight trials from the aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, are continuing and the programme remains on schedule to provide our armed forces with a game-changing capability.

“We will continue to review the situation as further information becomes available.”

The first F-35B jets only landed on HMS Queen Elizabeth last month.

They are now in a period of flight trials off the east coast of the US.

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Backpacker who was kidnapped and raped on Australian farm used Facebook to raise alarm | World News

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A backpacker has told how she sent desperate pleas for help over Facebook after being chained up and sexually abused by a farmer in Australia.

Davine Arckens, from Belgium, waved her right to anonymity to describe her two-day ordeal in February 2017 after Gene Charles Bristow was convicted of her kidnap and rape.

The 24-year-old told 60 Minutes Australia she was lured to a pig shed in Meningie, South Australia, after she placed an advert on the Gumtree website in a bid to find work.

After Bristow demanded to check her body for needle marks to ensure she was not a drug user, Ms Arckens said he lunged on her, pulled her arms behind her back and threatened to shoot her if she did not do what he said.

She said Bristow, 54, used cable ties then chains to bind her wrists and shackle both her legs, then stripped her naked and sexually abused her.

“I was just stuck there and I thought it would take a while for people to notice I was gone or even to find me,” she told 60 Minutes.

“I was like: ‘I’m not getting out of here. This is it. This is where I’m going to die.'”

Ms Arckens spotted small metal hooks for binding wool bales in the shed and used them to loosen the shackles and set herself free.

She used a laptop and WiFi stick hidden in her bag to log onto Facebook and sent desperate messages for help.

Her friend, fellow backpacker Echo Wang, who was in Far North Queensland, picked up Ms Arckens’ Facebook messages and immediately raised the alarm.

Gene Charles Bristow was jailed for at least 12 and a half years. Pic: 60 Minutes Australia
Image:
Gene Charles Bristow may be deported to the UK, where he grew up. Pic: 60 Minutes Australia

Describing Ms Wang, Ms Arckens told 60 Minutes: “She’s like a hero for me. She helped me, she was there for me. She took action.”

Ms Arckens said she put her shackles back on and waited for help as detectives used signals from her phone to track her location.

After police appealed to the public for information, she said Bristow dropped her off at a nearby motel before officers raided his farm and arrested him.

He was jailed last month for at least 12-and-a-half years after being found guilty of kidnap and rape, Sky News Australia reported.

Bristow’s son David told 60 Minutes Australia that he was “disgusted” by his father’s actions, adding: “Rot in hell. You get what you deserve.”

Bristow's son David told his father to 'rot in hell'. Pic: 60 Minutes Australia
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Bristow’s son David told his father to ‘rot in hell’. Pic: 60 Minutes Australia

Bristow is likely to be deported to the UK, where he grew up, following his sentence, according to reports.

It came as several young backpackers said they had been subjected to rape threats and abuse in Australia amid fears the country’s working holiday visa programme could be exploited.

An investigation by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) uncovered widespread mistreatment of those on the scheme, in which travellers aged 18 to 30 agree to work in rural industries in exchange for an extended stay in the country.

British backpacker Frances Fairs told ABC that a hostel owner in a remote part of Victoria, southeastern Australia, threatened to rape her if she refused his advances.

“He called me into his office and was like ‘right here is the deal, you either sleep with me and my girlfriend or I rape you. Pick one’,” she said.

There are fears that more travellers will face abuse and exploitation if they work in isolated parts of Australia for longer periods under plans by the country’s government to lengthen the working visa programme.

Under new rules, the scheme will be extended to allow young backpackers to remain in Australia for a third year if they carry out specified work for six months.

Australia’s department of home affairs told ABC it had established a migrant workers’ task force in an effort to reduce exploitation by unscrupulous employers.

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Chanchal Lahiri: Stuntman feared dead after magic trick in River Ganges goes wrong | World News

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A stuntman has been declared missing after he lowered himself into the River Ganges while tied up with rope and steel chains for a magic trick.

Chanchal Lahiri, also known as Wizard Mandrake, was lowered into the river by a crane while his friends, family and police watched from the river bank on Sunday.

Before entering the cage, the 40-year-old reportedly said: “If I can free myself it will be magic, if I cannot it will be tragic.”

Mr Lahiri has not emerged from the river since – sparking a frantic search – and is feared dead.

“We are still searching,” a family member told the AFP news agency.

Caged Indian escape artist Chanchal Lahiri waves to the crowd before being lowered into the Hooghly river in 2002
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Caged Indian escape artist Chanchal Lahiri waves to the crowd before being lowered into the Hooghly river in 2002

The Indian escape artist pulled off a similar stunt 21 years ago in the same river by locking himself inside a bulletproof glass box while he was tied with chains.

He was dropped from a bridge and managed to escape within 29 seconds, according to reports.

After he performed the same stunt in 2013, he was assaulted by witnesses who claimed it was fake – accusing Mr Lahiri of exiting the locked cage through a visible door.

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Iran ‘due to exceed uranium stock limit agreed in nuclear deal within 10 days’ | World News

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Iran will exceed the amount of low-enriched uranium it is allowed to keep under the nuclear deal in 10 days, state TV has said.

Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for Iran’s nuclear agency, told journalists Tehran would increase the quantity of uranium it enriches to a level “based on the country’s needs”.

The current level, of 3.67% of the country’s supplies, was set by the 2015 deal between Iran and world powers, designed to restrict Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

The statement comes in the wake of increase tensions in the Middle East following attacks on oil tankers the US and Saudi Arabia have blamed on Iran and after the US unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 deal.

Mr Kamalvandi, whose comments were carried live on a state-run television channel, was speaking at Iran’s Arak heavy water plant – one of a series of nuclear facilities across the country.

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