South Korean F-35A Lightning IIs take flight over the Korean Peninsula on Dec. 20, 2022.

South Korean F-35A Lightning IIs take flight over the Korean Peninsula on Dec. 20, 2022. (South Korea Ministry of National Defense)

CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea — A collision with an eagle caused a South Korean F-35A Lightning II fighter to crash last year, and talks are underway with the manufacturer over scrapping or repairing the stealth aircraft, the South Korean air force said Tuesday. 

An investigation determined the bird struck the F-35A’s landing gear, which failed, forcing the pilot to make an emergency belly landing Jan. 4, 2022, at a South Korean air force base in Seosan, about 50 miles southwest of Seoul, according to an air force email Tuesday. 

The pilot exited the plane without serious injuries, according to the air force.

South Korea’s air force and Lockheed Martin, the F-35 manufacturer, assessed the damaged aircraft to determine whether repairs would prove too costly or compromise the fighter’s safe operation.

The air force did not provide an estimate for the repairs and said discussions with Lockheed Martin are still ongoing. 

South Korea purchased 40 F-35As from Lockheed Martin in 2014 in a deal worth $7 billion, or roughly $175 million each, and began taking deliveries in 2019.

The Ministry of National Defense announced in March that it will spend nearly $2.9 billion for another 20 F-35As by 2028. The additional F-35As are meant to stave off North Korean threats and fill a “power vacuum” caused by maintaining the existing fleet, the ministry said at the time.

The United States and South Korean air forces conducted their first joint combat air drill with F-35As in July.

South Korean F-35As have also flown with American aircraft in shows of force following North Korean missile launches. On March 19, less than three hours after North Korea fired a short-range ballistic missile, a U.S. B-1B Lancer bomber flew over the Korean Peninsula with South Korean F-35As as part of the 11-day Freedom Shield exercise, according to the National Defense Ministry.

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Joseph Ditzler is a Marine Corps veteran and the Pacific editor for Stars and Stripes. He’s a native of Pennsylvania and has written for newspapers and websites in Alaska, California, Florida, New Mexico, Oregon and Pennsylvania. He studied journalism at Penn State and international relations at the University of Oklahoma.

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