An F-35 advanced stealth fighter jet belonging to Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) has crashed into the Pacific Ocean after losing contact.
The aircraft was performing training manoeuvres along with three other jets when its pilot signalled the need to halt practice just before the aircraft lost contact with the radar, Defence Minister Takeshi Iwaya told reporters.
According to JASDF, the F-35 fighter was flying about 135km east of the Misawa Air Base in Aomori Prefecture when it disappeared from radar.
Wreckage from the crashed was recovered by search and rescue teams, but the pilot is still missing.
An unidentified defence official told Reuters that the aircraft was the first F-35 to be assembled in Japan and flew for 28 minutes before disappearing.
Japan has a fleet of 12 F-35 jets and is coordinating with various stakeholders to ascertain the cause of the accident.
Iwaya was quoted by the news agency as saying: “We’ll need to cooperate with the US forces and I believe arrangements are being made for this.”
The minister also stated that the remaining F-35 aircraft would be grounded until the outcome of the investigation.
Another JASDF official disclosed that the aircraft was the first F-35 assembled locally by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) at its plant in Nagoya.
The Japanese aircraft is only the second F-35 jet to crash. The first, an F-35B variant of the model, belonging to US Marine Corps crashed in Beaufort, South Carolina, in September.
Following the first F-35 crash, the US and its allies grounded the aircraft temporarily.
Japan is one of several participating nations in the Lockheed Martin-led F-35 programme and intends to procure a total of 147 of the aircraft.
These will include 105 F-35A conventional take-off and landing jets and 42 F-35B short take-off and vertical landing aircraft.
The country’s first F-35A squadron became operational only last month.
The F-35 programme is regarded as the world’s most expensive weapons system.