Japanese F-35 fighter crashes; pilot still missing

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On Tuesday, at approximately 7:30 p.m. local time, a Japanese Air Self Defense F-35A Joint Strike Fighter disappeared from Japanese tracking systems somewhere off the coast of northern Japan.

Officials said the single-engine jet from Japan's Air Self-Defense Force was on a training flight with three other F-35s when contact was lost last night, public broadcaster NHK reported.

"We recovered the wreckage and determined it was from the F-35", a spokesman for the Air Self Defense Force (ASDF) said, adding that the pilot of the aircraft was still missing.

The country's Air Self-Defense Force said the stealth jet, an F-35A model, went missing while flying off the eastern coast of Aomori.

There was no confirmation whether the male pilot had ejected from the cockpit.

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Japanese Defence Minister Takeshi Iwaya announced Tuesday that Tokyo would ground the JASDF's whole fleet of F-35A stealth fighters in the wake of the incident. Each costs around $100 million, slightly more than the cost of buying a fully assembled plane. It was also the first crash of an A version of the fifth-generation fighter, which is created to penetrate enemy defenses by evading radar detection. The first one occurred on September 28, 2018 when a U.S. Marine F-35B Lightning II crashed near Beaufort, South Carolina. Other JASDF aircraft, most likely search-and-rescue U-125A jets and UH-60J Black Hawk helicopters that are deployed throughout Japanese air bases, have also reportedly joined the search efforts.

Japan plans to buy 147 USA -made F-35s, majority F-35As, over the next decade.

The Pentagon said it was monitoring the situation.

The remaining 12 F-35A fighters have been grounded for the time being, according to the defence ministry.

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