Air Self-Defense Force Accidents Continue

Japan's Air Self-Defense Force has been involved in 2 accidents this week, one in which a fighter jet burst into flames and another involving a helicopter crash. The Defense Ministry has ordered the SDF to carry out safety checks for all aircraft now in use.

An F-4 fighter jet caught fire at around 11:45 AM on October 18th at the Air Self-Defense Force's Hyakuri base in Ibaraki Prefecture.

It was put out in about 30 minutes. Officials said the jet was taxing towards the runway for a training flight when the landing gear on the left side broke and caught fire. The 2 crewmembers were not injured.

A man who witnessed the accident says, "The fighter was moving slowly on the runway when I suddenly heard a bang, and I saw smoke and flames coming out of the aircraft. I've never seen such an accident before and I was very frightened, thinking that the fighter could explode."

A day earlier, a helicopter that left the ASDF's Hamamatsu base in Shizuoka went missing at around 6PM with 4 crewmembers on board. The UH-60 rescue helicopter lost contact about 22 kilometers off the coast of Hamamatsu City.

The Defense Ministry recovered parts of the helicopter in a search and concluded that it had crashed. The search for the 4 crewmembers is still underway.

The helicopter belonged to the ASDF rescue team. The rescue teams are stationed in 10 bases around the country.

The team at the Hamamatsu base came to the aid of people stranded in the heavy rains in the Kanto and Tohoku regions in September 2015. It also took part in rescue missions during the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, as well as the Mount Ontake eruption.

Many rescuers are certified airborne rangers of the Ground Self-Defense Force. It is regarded as the toughest qualification in the Self-Defense Forces. The missing helicopter was conducting a night-time drill.

Defense Minister orders thorough safety checks

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters that the latest incident was caused by broken landing gear, which is very serious as it could have affected flight safety.

He said the aircraft in question was an F-4 fighter jet, and added that the aging fighters will soon be retired and replaced by F-35s. He said he instructed the Self-Defense Forces to carry out safety checks for all the aircraft now in use.

Onodera also said SDF aircraft missions including patrols and scrambles are increasing amid difficult security issues with North Korea and China. He said it is important to focus on safe flights, especially at times like these, and pledged to work on preventive measures.