Search Underway for Missing Japanese Pilot Following F-35 Crash

 - April 10, 2019, 6:43 AM
Japan has only recently established its first front-line F-35 squadron, 302 Hikotai at Misawa. (Photo: Lockheed Martin)

A major search operation has been launched for a Japanese Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) pilot, whose Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II crashed into the Pacific Ocean, 83 miles (135 km) east of Misawa air base on the evening of April 9. 

The incident aircraft (S/N 79-8705, C/N AX-05) was the first Japanese-assembled F-35A by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), which rolled out on June 5, 2017, and is the first F-35 to be lost by an international user. The U.S. Marine Corps had earlier lost an F-35B in a crash that occurred last September at Beaufort, South Carolina, with the pilot ejecting safely.

According to the JASDF, the aircraft was part of a four-ship sortie that departed Misawa AB at 6:59 p.m. for a training mission and the pilot called to abort the sortie at 7:27 p.m. before disappearing from radar. The first sign of debris was found at 9:45 p.m. and was later confirmed to be from an F-35.

Japan has grounded its remaining 12 F-35As while the investigation is ongoing. The U.S. Navy has committed a Boeing P-8A Poseidon and guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem to the search, alongside Japanese U-125A aircraft, UH-60J Black Hawk and SH-60J helicopters, and at least four naval vessels.

This incident is the second JASDF crash within four months and comes just weeks after the air arm stood up its first F-35 squadron, the 302 Hikotai. On February 19, a Mitsubishi F-2B crashed into the Sea of Japan 30 minutes into its flight. Both pilots were rescued but the F-2 fleet was temporarily grounded.