One of the first 13 F-35A stealth jet fighters deployed in Japan was highly likely to have crashed into the sea off Aomori Prefecture on Tuesday evening, leaving the pilot missing, Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya said Wednesday.
A section of the missing fighter’s tail was found and retrieved from the sea late Tuesday night about 135 km off the coast of the Air Self-Defense Force’s Misawa Air Base in Aomori, a ministry official said.
That discovery led the ministry to conclude that the state-of-the-art fighter — which cost more than ¥10 billion each — had plunged into the sea.
The cause of the crash remains unknown.
The fighter went missing Tuesday over the Pacific Ocean off Aomori Prefecture during nighttime flight training, the ASDF said.
The ASDF’s radar lost track of the jet at 7:27 p.m., when it was about 135 km east of Misawa Air Base in the prefecture.
The F-35A in question was engaging in anti-fighter combat training with three other F-35A jets.
The Self-Defense Forces had dispatched airplanes, helicopters and warships to search for the jet and pilot late Tuesday, and the search was continuing as of Wednesday morning.
Asked about the cause of the incident at an earlier news conference Tuesday evening, Iwaya declined to comment, saying the Defense Ministry “will put all our efforts to save the life (of the pilot) first.”
The Defense Ministry has suspended flights of all remaining F-35As at the Misawa Air Base for the time being.
The ASDF only formed the Misawa-based air squadron comprising the 13 F-35As on March 26.
Japan plans to procure a total of 147 F-35 fighter jets, 105 of which are expected to be F-35A.
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