Wreckage of jet found, Japanese pilot still missing

An F-35A stealth fighter jet of Japan's Air Self-Defence Force went missing on Tuesday. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
An F-35A stealth fighter jet of Japan's Air Self-Defence Force went missing on Tuesday. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TOKYO • Wreckage from a Japanese F-35A stealth fighter jet has been found a day after it disappeared off the radar over the Pacific, the country's defence minister has said.

There was no word yet on the fate of the single pilot on board the jet, Defence Minister Takeshi Iwaya said yesterday. It was the first reported case of a crash by an F-35A, according to Japan's Air Self-Defence Force.

"We have collected part of its tail" in search operations at sea with planes and vessels, Mr Iwaya told reporters. "We believe it crashed."

The fighter jet went missing on Tuesday as it was flying some 135km east of Misawa, north-eastern Japan, on a training mission. It lost contact about 30 minutes after taking off from Misawa Air Base with three other aircraft.

Mr Iwaya said: "During the exercise, the aircraft... communicated that it was aborting the exercise, then communications from the plane stopped and its radar track disappeared."

Japan's air force announced a commission late on Tuesday to study the cause of the accident.

US defence contractor Lockheed Martin touts the high-tech fighter as "virtually undetectable" and says it allows the United States and its allies to dominate the skies with its "unmatched capability and unprecedented situational awareness".

Japan is deploying F-35As, each costing more than 10 billion yen (S$121.7 million), to replace its ageing F-4 fighters. The jet was one of 13 F-35As deployed at the base, according to the Defence Ministry. The remaining 12 F-35As have been grounded for the time being, it said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 11, 2019, with the headline 'Wreckage of jet found, Japanese pilot still missing'. Print Edition | Subscribe