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Misawa Air Base is home of the 35th Fighter Wing in northeastern Japan.
Misawa Air Base is home of the 35th Fighter Wing in northeastern Japan. (Aaron Kidd/Stars and Stripes)

The Air Force has located two external fuel tanks that reportedly fell from an F-16 fighter onto a coastal town in northeastern Japan earlier this week, according to a statement Thursday from Misawa Air Base.

The pilot jettisoned the tanks from the Fighting Falcon during an in-flight emergency before landing at Aomori Airport around 6 p.m. Tuesday, the 35th Fighter Wing at Misawa said. The wing said the tanks will be returned to Misawa.

The plane landed without incident, but one of the tanks came down near homes and the town hall in Fukaura, roughly 100 miles west of the base, according to local police and the Tohoku Defense Bureau. No injuries were reported, although police said a sidewalk handrail was damaged.

The wing first reported the tanks fell into a nonresidential area but later Wednesday acknowledged one tank apparently fell near homes.

“The first fuel tank was found in the town of Fukaura” on Wednesday, according to the wing on Thursday. “The second fuel tank was found in a wooded area in the town of Fukaura, and will be returned to Misawa AB by the recovery team.”

The aircraft remains parked at Aomori Airport west of Misawa Air Base undergoing inspection and repairs by a team from the 35th Maintenance Group, according to the wing. It did not disclose the nature of the in-flight emergency.

The wing did not respond Thursday to a call the previous day by Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi to ground its F-16s temporarily until it confirms the fighter jets are safe to fly.

“We have maintenance, safety and environmental experts working around the clock to bring these fuel tanks and our aircraft back to Misawa safely,” Col. Timothy B. Murphy, the 35th Fighter Wing vice commander, said in Thursday’s statement. “We appreciate the continuous cooperation and understanding from our neighbors in Japan as we work through this incident.”

The incident is under investigation, according to the wing. It said further details are forthcoming.

The defense bureau on Tuesday protested the incident to Misawa’s commander, calling it “extremely regrettable,” and of concern to officials and local residents, a bureau spokeswoman said. It asked the Air Force to identify the cause of the incident as soon as possible and to take preventative measures, she added.

Government spokespeople in Japan customarily speak to the media on condition of anonymity.

The F-16 remained on the runway until just after midnight Wednesday, causing the cancellation of seven commercial flights Tuesday evening, an airport spokesman said. Commercial flights resumed Wednesday morning, he said.

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