An F-16 with the 35th Fighter Wing taxis on the runway in Misawa, Japan on Jan. 17, 2012.

An F-16 with the 35th Fighter Wing taxis on the runway in Misawa, Japan on Jan. 17, 2012. (Beatrice Brown/Defense Department)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan - The fighter pilot who was rescued at sea earlier this week after his jet went down in the Pacific Ocean returned home to Misawa Air Base on Friday.

"He's in good health and with his family," Cmdr. Tim Curry, deputy director of operations for U.S. Forces Japan, told Stars and Stripes on Friday.

The military is withholding the pilot's name while Air Force investigators try to determine what caused the jet to crash Sunday a few hours after taking off from Misawa.

Col. Al Wimmer, 35th Fighter Wing and Misawa Air Base installation vice commander, grounded Misawa's remaining 44 F-16s following the incident while local maintenance crews conducted inspections.

Wimmer lifted the order Thursday saying the fleet "met all stringent safety standards."

The jet was en route to an exercise in Alaska with 11 other F-16s from Misawa when it went down 250 miles off the northeastern coast of Japan around 11:30 a.m Sunday. After the crash, three of the jets went back to Misawa, while the other eight continued on to Eielson Air Force Base for the upcoming Red Flag Alaska exercise.

Two refueling aircraft traveling with the F-16 stayed on the scene and circled above the crash site for hours to establish communications with the pilot and relay information between him and the rescue teams that quickly assembled to help him, Curry said.

The ejection process is designed not only to get the pilot out of the aircraft safely during a contingency but also to activate a search and rescue distress call for the aviator, he said. A typical ejection seat includes a parachute, self-inflating raft and basic provisions.

A Japanese research vessel plucked the pilot from the sea late Sunday afternoon. The ship was one of several civilian and military vessels from the U.S. and Japan that responded to the incident.

The pilot was quickly transferred to a U.S. ship and went on to Alaska before being flown back to Japan, Curry said.

From staff reports

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