Small piece of F/A-18E falls off mid-air, striking vehicle near Atsugi
By ERIK SLAVIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 9, 2014
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan – A Navy F/A-18E jet fighter dropped a small piece of metal in mid-air that struck a parked vehicle near Naval Air Facility Atsugi on Thursday, base officials said.
The jet had its wheels down over Ayase City, within 2 miles of the air base, when the piece, weighing about 6 ounces and measuring about 1-by-7 inches, fell out of the sky just after 2:30 p.m., Atsugi base spokesman Greg Kuntz said Friday.
The incident did not cause any injuries, and the aircraft landed safely afterward.
The object may have bounced off a fence before striking the side window of a minivan, a Yamato City police spokesman said Friday. The vehicle owner and a co-worker were working in a house in the Teraokita neighborhood when they heard a shattering sound, according to police. They went outside and saw a 2-inch hole in the van window, along with a metal piece lying on the ground near the van, police said.
The commander of Carrier Air Wing 5, the USS George Washington’s flight wing, has ordered flights grounded until each similar aircraft can be inspected. Mechanics will focus on inspecting aircraft wheel assemblies for rotor drive integrity, Navy officials said. Five of the wing’s nine squadrons fly either the F/A-18E or another variant of the F-18 airframe.
“A full investigation is underway to determine the causes of the incident and take steps to prevent its re-occurrence,” base officials added in a statement Friday. “The Navy deeply regrets any inconvenience this event may have caused its neighbors and friends in the Atsugi area.”
Local city officials visited the base Thursday to express their concern following the incident. Civic group representatives were expected to lodge complaints later Friday.
The Navy has had multiple instances of parts falling from aircraft in recent years. In 2012, an EA-6B Prowler lost a door panel and a tailpipe panel in mid-air because of improper maintenance, according to investigation results at the time.
In February 2011, a sonar buoy normally used for underwater surveillance fell from a Navy SH-60F Seahawk helicopter and crashed into a farm field.
Carrier Air Wing 5 plans to leave Atsugi for Marine Corps Station Iwakuni, about 550 miles southwest of Yokosuka Naval Base, by 2017. The move was scheduled to happen this year but was postponed because of construction delays. The Navy shares Atsugi with the Japanese Self-Defense Forces.
Stars and Stripes reporter Hana Kusumoto contributed to this report.