F-15 crashes during training off Okinawa

An American F-15 Eagle fighter ascends over Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, in this 1996 photo. An F-15 crashed into the sea Tuesday morning 55 miles off the coast of Okinawa, but the pilot ejected and was rescued with only minor injuries, U.S. military officials said.


Pilot ejects safely; planes grounded as investigation begins

By ERIK SLAVIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 19, 2006

KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — An F-15C Eagle fighter plane crashed in the ocean about 55 miles northeast of Okinawa on Tuesday, according to Air Force reports.

The 44th Fighter Squadron pilot, whose name was not released, ejected safely from the plane around 10 a.m. and was rescued at 10:50 a.m, according to a Kadena spokesman.

Members of the 31st and 33rd Rescue Squadrons transported the pilot on an HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter to U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa on Camp Lester, where he was later released.

The F-15 took off with three other F-15s for the “Whiskey-173” training area around 9:30 a.m. The other three aircraft were undamaged and returned to base. The pilot kept contact with a KC-135 refueling plane crew, according to Air Force reports.

The crash’s cause is still under investigation, an Air Force spokesman said.

All F-15 flights were grounded indefinitely following the crash. All other training flights were grounded Tuesday, but were expected to resume Wednesday.

“The stand-down provides an opportunity for aircrews to put the mishap behind them and refocus on training requirements,” said wing spokesman Lt. Col. Mike Paoli.

Despite the distance from land, the crash sparked strong interest and reactions in the local community.

Okinawa City was to hold an emergency city council meeting Wednesday, said Okinawa deputy mayor Takeru Takara.

“The accident renewed fear that people of Okinawa and residents of neighboring communities have toward the air base,” he said.

“It reaffirmed our wish to move the training out of Okinawa and if possible to U.S. soil.”

A Kadena F-15 last crashed in the ocean in August 2002, when pilot error caused it to spin out of control and crash about 60 miles off Okinawa’s coast. The plane crashed in 10,000 feet of water and was unrecoverable.

In October 2004, two Kadena F-15s collided in mid-air over water, sparking local protests and calls for the base to remove the fighter aircraft.

Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.