Japanese F-15s return to the skies over Okinawa
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Japan F-15 fighter jets began flying on Okinawa again Wednesday for the first time since a deadly crash caused the fleet to be grounded nationwide earlier this month, according to the Japan Air Self-Defense Force.
The decision to resume flight operations on the island was made after a survey of the F-15 fleet discovered no aircraft structural problems that might have caused the crash that killed a veteran pilot who was on a July 5 training flight out of Naha Air Base, said Maj. Minoru Takara, chief spokesman of Naha Air Base in Okinawa.
The grounding had affected about 200 aircraft in Japan and Okinawa was the last prefecture to bring the F-15s back online. Flight operations on mainland Japan had resumed last week.
“We resumed the flight beginning today after conducting elaborate security precautions to ensure safety in both the aircraft and mental and physical aspect of the pilots,” Takara said.
The cause of the crash, which occurred about 100 miles northwest of the island and killed Maj. Yuji Kawakubo, was still unknown Wednesday as an investigation continued, Takara said.
The pilot’s body had not been recovered despite a search by the Japan coast guard and military. A section of the downed F-15’s tail was found in the ocean and there were reports of smoke and oil in the water.
Takara said a Japanese salvage ship would continue the search effort this week.