Japan requests the USAF ground its F-16 fleet after fuel tank drop incident

U.S. Air Force photo

On November 30, 2021, an F-16 Fighting Falcon had to carry out an emergency landing at Aomori Airport (AOJ), north of Japan’s main island of Honshu, after encountering an engine issue. 

The aircraft belonged to the 35th Fighter Wing of the United States Air Force, based at Misawa Air Base (MSJ). It was on a training flight with another F-16. The accompanying fighter returned to the base. 

Before it could land at the airport, the aircraft dumped its two external fuel tanks. Initially, the 35th Fighter Wing reported that the tanks had been jettisoned in an uninhabited area. But local authorities contradicted this version of events, saying debris and liquid were found on a road. In another statement dated December 1, 2021, the wing confirmed that “one of the fuel tanks appears to have landed in an open public area in the town of Fukaura, Aomori prefecture”. 

“Safety, always considered a priority, especially for our Airmen and our Japanese neighbors, is key to mission success,” said Colonel Timothy Murphy, vice commander of the 35th Fighter Wing. “Our pilot acted quickly and in accordance with standard procedures to minimize the risk of injury and potential damage. As we conduct a thorough investigation to determine the root cause of this incident, we are grateful to our Japanese partners and local community leaders for their understanding in this matter.”  

The fighter remained on the airport’s runway overnight, disrupting at least seven commercial flights. 

The Japanese Ministry of Defense published a statement in which it said it would request the United States to “provide sufficient information to the ministry and the local community”. Additionally, it will ask for the grounding of the F-16 fleet until the fighter jets are deemed safe to fly. 

On November 8, 2019, another F-16 of the 35th Fighter Wing accidentally dropped an inert bomb on private land outside training grounds in Aomori Prefecture. 

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