An F-2 fighter from the Japan Air Self-Defense Force takes off at Andersen Air Force Base during a past Cope North drill near Guam.

An F-2 fighter from the Japan Air Self-Defense Force takes off at Andersen Air Force Base during a past Cope North drill near Guam. (Ashleigh Bryant/U.S. Air Force)

TOKYO — Pilot error may have been the cause of a Japan Air Self-Defense Force F-2B fighter crash in the Sea of Japan near Yamaguchi prefecture last week.

The fighter lost speed during a combat exercise, and the pilot was unable to maneuver the jet as it climbed sharply to avoid being tracked by another fighter, according to a JASDF news release issued Wednesday.

An instructor pilot in the rear seat tried unsuccessfully to regain control of the jet, which is a variant of the U.S. F-16. The fighter lost altitude and the pilots ejected the F-2B when it reached the minimum safe altitude for an emergency escape, according to the JASDF statement.

Both pilots — a first lieutenant training for a flight qualification and a captain instructor — were rescued from the sea almost two hours after departing Tsuiki Air Base at 8:48 a.m. Feb. 20.

The first lieutenant sustained a cervical spine sprain and bruises to his left elbow joint; however, his condition is improving, the JASDF said. The captain, who suffered broken thoracic vertebrae and bruises to his left arm, was hospitalized and began rehabilitation on Wednesday.

“It is possible that the aircraft lost its speed as a result of the pilot’s maneuvering, and it also was unable to conduct appropriate recovery maneuvering after it lost its speed,” the release said.

Nothing indicated a problem with the aircraft before it lost manueverability, the release stated.

The crew issued an SOS call 30 minutes into the flight; two minutes later, the jet disappeared from controllers’ radar screens at a point 80 miles northeast of the base. The pilots were conscious when rescued.

JASDF grounded all flights temporarily soon after the incident but the F-2 remained grounded, except for emergencies, the JASDF said.

Some F-2s resumed operations Thursday after safety checks and trainings are conducted, the release stated.

The cause of the incident is under investigation by the aircraft accidents investigation commission. Twitter: @HanaKusumoto

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Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.

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