China says a military plane has landed on one of the country's man-made islands in the disputed South China Sea, the first public acknowledgement of such a mission.
China's state-run media said Monday that the plane was on patrol in the area Sunday when it received an emergency call to land on Fiery Cross Reef to evacuate three injured construction workers.
After picking up the injured workers, the plane then flew to Hainan Island where it was met by an ambulance.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Lu Kang, said such rescue missions are part of the military's tradition.
"On Chinese territory, something like this is not out of the ordinary," he said.
China completed the 3,000-meter runway on the island in the disputed Spratly archipelago last year, and began test flights of commercial airlines there in January.
Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said the United States has serious concerns about China's actions in the South China Sea.
He said other Asian countries in the region have been expressing their concerns to the United States both publicly and privately about China's military actions, which he said "stand out in size and scope."
U.S. military officials have said that any attempt by China to fly military aircraft from the man-made islands would not deter U.S. flights over the area.
China claims much of the South China Sea, while several other nations — including the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam — have rival claims.