Japan calls off crashed F-35A search, rest of fleet grounded

U.S. Air Force photo

Japan ended its search for the pilot’s body and the wreck of the F-35 fighter jet that fell to sea on April 9, 2019.

Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya told reporters on June 4, 2019, that the search operation in the area where debris was found was over, but the investigation into the causes of the crash was continuing.

As for the rest of the Japanese 12 F-35s at the Misawa base, they will remain grounded until the cause of the incident has been investigated.

Iwaya announced that a lighter search should continue in a larger area, using underwater cameras for the purpose of “protecting classified military information”. Some debris has been recovered, including pieces of the engine and wing, and part of the flight recorder.

However, the body of the pilot and the memory chips containing the flight data essential to understanding the reasons behind that accident are still missing.

The U.S. military, which had initially taken an active part in the search operation had stopped assisting the Japan Self Defense Force (JSDF) on May 8, 2019, with the withdrawal of its last assets, a U.S. Navy salvage team aboard a contracted vessel, Ultra Deep Solutions’ Van Gogh. This team had deployed a remotely operated vehicle, the CURV 21.

In the aftermath of the crash, destroyer USS Stethem (DDG 63) and multiple P-8A Poseidon aircraft had also helped the JSDF in its search efforts.

The fighter jet, with one pilot on board, was on a training mission about 135 km (83 miles) from the coast of Aomori Prefecture in northeastern Japan and had been flying for thirty minutes when communication was lost, according to NHK.

Identified as 79-8705, it was the first of 13 aircraft assembled in Japan at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Nagoya Final Assembly and Checkout Facility (FACO).

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.

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