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Air Force to resume F-15 training flights following crash off Okinawa

U.S. Air Force Airmen from the 67th Fighter Squadron check and install panels on an F-15 Eagle Jan. 11, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan.

By MATTHEW M. BURKE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 12, 2018

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The Air Force plans to resume F-15 flight training Wednesday, two days after an F-15C Eagle crashed into waters south of the island prefecture in southern Japan.

A stand-down period was announced Monday in the aftermath of the crash, which occurred at about 6:36 a.m. local time during a routine training mission out of Kadena Air Base.

The pilot successfully ejected prior to impact and was rescued by the Japan Air Self-Defense Force.

The pilot’s condition — announced as “serious” Monday evening — was upgraded to “fair” Tuesday, according to a post on Kadena’s official Twitter account.

Air Force officials said they decided to resume the training after all F-15 aircraft at Kadena had been inspected and an initial investigation into the cause of the crash had been completed, though they did not say what that investigation revealed.

“Senior, experienced pilots and maintainers have reviewed the initial facts and circumstances of the mishap and are confident that the incident does not indicate a problem with the overall safety of Kadena’s F-15 fleet,” the officials said in a statement issued Tuesday evening.

Japanese officials could not be reached for comment after hours.

Kadena’s 18th Wing said Monday that a more comprehensive investigation would also take place, during which a board of officers would examine the “facts and circumstances that led up to the accident.” In the meantime, they vowed to review “operational, maintenance and safety procedures” with unit personnel.

Col. Richard Tanner, 18th Wing vice commander, said the safety of his pilots, the U.S. military base population and local residents remained paramount while meeting “alliance obligations.”

“In the last 24 hours, we’ve inspected all of our F-15s, and we are confident they are safe to resume training,” he said in the statement. “At the same time, we have reinforced the importance of safety and adherence to flight regulations with all of our pilots.”

Aircraft operations are particularly sensitive on Okinawa where crashes have caused civilian casualties in the past.

Monday morning’s crash of the nearly $30 million fighter jet drew the ire of Okinawa’s anti-base Gov. Takeshi Onaga and calls from Tokyo to ensure aircraft safety. Local Okinawan officials vowed to lodge formal protests with the U.S. military.

The U.S. and Japan are pushing ahead with plans to relocate air operations from the densely populated urban area surrounding Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, in the central portion of the island, to the northern coast at Camp Schwab.

Monday’s incident marked the 12th crash involving U.S. military aircraft this fiscal year.

burke.matt@stripes.com

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