Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force is confirming that one of its 13 F-35 fighter jets crashed into the Pacific during a training exercise. The pilot signaled that he was aborting the training exercise minutes after departing Misawa Air Base in northern Japan. His was part of a four-ship flight.
Contact was lost with the aircraft and the pilot, described only as a male in his 40s with a 3200 hours of flying time, has not been found. Aircraft and ships from Japan and the U.S. are continuing the search for the pilot, though debris from the aircraft has been located.
The aircraft was part of Japan’s first F-35 squadron, which entered service 11 days ago, and it was the first to be manufactured by Mitsubishi in Nagoya. The remaining 12 F-35s have been grounded. CNN is quoting former Australian air force officer Peter Layton as suggesting that the call to abort the mission was sufficiently different from a mayday call that the pilot could have felt the situation, whatever it was, was recoverable.
This accident marks only the second of the F-35. In September, a U.S. Marine Corps F-35 crashed in Beaufort, South Carolina. The cause of that crash is believed to be the result of a faulty fuel tube in the engine. All F-35s were grounded briefly for inspection after that accident.