The crash of an F-35A stealth fighter jet of the Japan Self Defense Forces during a training flight on April 9, 2019, was confirmed.
The fighter jet, with one pilot on board, was on a training mission about 135 km from the coast of Aomori Prefecture in northeastern Japan and had been flying for thirty minutes when communication was lost, according to NHK. The aircraft is based at Misawa Air Base where the first F-35 fighter squadron became operational on March 29, 2019.
Patrol aircraft and escort vessels of the Maritime Self-Defense Force and search and rescue aircraft of the Air Self-Defense Force were immediately dispatched to search for the fighter jet. They are expected to reach the site around midnight local time.
Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya announced that all flights of the remaining 12 F-35 currently in the JSDF fleet were suspended.
Japan plans to eventually acquire a total of 105 Lockheed Martin F-35A and 42 F-35B (STVOL variant) fifth-generation stealth fighter jets to replace its aging fleet of F-4 Phantom.
If the crash is confirmed, it would be the second one involving an F-35 in its operational history. On September 28, 2018, an F-35B from the U.S. Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 crashed during a training flight near Beaufort Air Station (KNBC) in South Carolina, United States.
UPDATE 10-04-2019, 11:00: The crash was confirmed during the night. “Part of what is thought to be the tail of the plane was spotted floating near the place” where the F-35A disappeared, Defense Minister Iwaya told the press. “We believe it crashed,” he added. The fate of the pilot, however, remains unknown.
The Japanese Self-Defense Force continues the search which involves several UH-60J Black Hawk and U-125A search and rescue planes. Iwaya announced that an investigation was opened to identify causes of the crash. According to NHK, the missing pilot had called for the training to be interrupted just before the incident.
The crashed aircraft, identified 79-8705, was the first of 13 aircraft assembled in Japan at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Nagoya Final Assembly and Checkout Facility (FACO).