Senior leaders of Japan’s Ministry of Defence, US Forces Japan, Pacific Air Forces and Lockheed Martin seen at the ceremony to celebrate the arrival of the first F-35A to its first operational base at Misawa Air Base, Japan. (Photo courtesy F-35/Lockhee
A Japanese F-35A stealth fighter jet with one pilot on board crashed into the Pacific shortly after it disappeared off the radar while on a training mission, the defence ministry said. Multiple international media reports including Reuters and CNN have confirmed the crash. “We recovered the wreckage and determined it was from the F-35,” a spokesman for the Air Self Defense Force (ASDF) was quoted as saying by the Reuters. The report also said that the pilot of the stealth fighter is still missing. This is the second time in the history of the F-35s that the jet has crashed. Earlier, an F-35B crashed near the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in South Carolina in September last year.
The fighter jet went missing around 7:30 pm (1030 GMT) as it was flying some 135 kilometres (84 miles) east of Misawa, northeastern Japan, a ministry spokeswoman said. The plane lost contact about 30 minutes after taking off from Misawa Air Base with three other aircraft.
Earlier reports suggest that Japan has grounded 12 remaining F-35A fighters for the time being. A total of eight airplanes were sent to the area. The Self-Defence Forces and coastguard have separately dispatched vessels to carry out rescue operations.
Japan is deploying F-35As, each of which costs more than 10 billion yen (USD 90 million), to replace the ageing F-4 fighter jet.
An 80-member squadron of the stealth fighters was just formed last month at the base, according to Kyodo News.
The F-35s are shipped to Japan by Lockheed Martin and assembled by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd at a plant near Nagoya in central Japan. Each costs around $100 million, slightly more than the cost of buying a fully assembled plane, the Reuters said. A representative for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries said the company had no immediate comment.
Japan is one of 14 countries in the F-35 program, according to the plane's maker, Lockheed Martin Corp. Tokyo announced in December it would be buying 147 of the planes, making it the biggest customer for the aircraft besides the United States.