Japan grounds its fleet of F-15 fighter jets
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Japan grounded its F-15 fighter jet fleet nationwide Wednesday as it continued the search for a pilot and aircraft that went missing during training off the coast of Okinawa Tuesday, according to the Japan Air Self-Defense Force.
The grounding includes about 200 jets and was done because it is still unclear whether the incident was caused by pilot error or a malfunction of the aircraft, said Maj. Minoru Takara, chief spokesman of Naha Air Base on Okinawa. The incident is being investigated by the Aircraft Accident Investigation Committee of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, he said.
Takara said the military still does not know whether the pilot, a 37-year-old major in the Japan air force with thousands of hours of flight time and about 1,700 hours in F-15s alone, ejected from his aircraft before it disappeared from Japanese radar around 10:30 a.m. Tuesday morning.
Japan mobilized aircraft and patrol boats and found pieces of the jet’s tail wing floating in the ocean. Authorities said it is highly likely the aircraft crashed.
The U.S. Air Force offered to assist with the search following the incident but had not gotten a request for assistance from Japan, said 1st Lt. Natassia Cherne, spokeswoman for Kadena Air Base.