TOKYO – A missing Japanese F-35A fighter plane was confirmed to have crashed into the Pacific Ocean but the pilot is still missing, the country’s defense ministry said on Wednesday.
The plane disappeared from radar during an exercise held on Tuesday evening, Japanese state broadcaster NHK reported.
Part of the plane’s tail was found in the sea near the location where the plane went missing, the Air Self-Defense Force said.
The plane vanished shortly after taking off from the Misawa air base, located in the northeastern part of the country.
The fighter was flying with three other planes of the same type off the coast of Aomori prefecture when it disappeared from radar.
A committee will investigate the cause of the accident to prevent it happening again, Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya said.
The other dozen F-35A planes will be grounded for the moment, the minister added.
Thirteen aircraft of this type are currently deployed at the Misawa air base, NHK reported.
Members of the Self-Defense Forces, the Japan Coast Guard and United States forces have been combing the region to locate the pilot, a major in his 40s with a total flight time of 3,200 hours – including 60 hours with an F-35 – local media reported.
The defense ministry confirmed during a briefing session with parliamentarians that it was the first accident involving an F-35 plane.
Japan began to deploy the US-built F-35A in January 2018 to replace its F-4 fighter planes.
The Asian country is expected to deploy a total of 105 F-35A planes and in the future acquire 42 F-35B aircraft for its defense forces.
The plane is due to form the backbone of Japan’s fighter fleet in the future.
The fifth-generation F-35 aircraft are the result of the most expensive defense program in history, and are considered to be the most sophisticated fighter planes in ever built.
The US firm Lockheed Martin manufactures the aircraft, financed mainly by Washington with support from countries such as the United Kingdom, Italy, Holland, Denmark, Turkey, Canada, Norway and Australia.