Flashpoints

Japan’s Ministry of Defense Confirms Death of Missing F-35A Fighter Jet Pilot

The Japanese minister of defense officially confirmed the death of a pilot who went missing with his F-35A on April 9.

Franz-Stefan Gady
Japan’s Ministry of Defense Confirms Death of Missing F-35A Fighter Jet Pilot
Credit: Japan Air Self Defense Force

The Japanese Ministry of Defense (MoD) officially confirmed on June 7 the death of a Japan Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) pilot who went missing after the fifth-generation Lockheed Martin Lightning II F-35A Joint Strike Fighter he was flying crashed off northern Japan into the Pacific Ocean almost two months ago.

Major Akinori Hosomi of the 3rd Air Wing’s 302nd Tactical Fighter Squadron was officially classified missing when he and his F-35A disappeared from radar tracking systems at 7:27 p.m. about 135 km (84 miles) east of Misawa Air Base, in the northern part of Japan’s main island of Honshu on April 9.

His aircraft was one of four F-35As that took off from Misawa Air Base for a training mission at 6:59 p.m., Japan time, on that day.

At a June 7 press conference, Japanese Minister of Defense Takeshi Iwaya confirmed the death of Major Hosomi, noting that the body parts recovered among F-35A wreckage drifting on the ocean’s surface on April 10 were confirmed to be the JASDF officer’s remains earlier this week.

“It is a source of immense regret to lose such an excellent pilot,” Iwaya was quoted as saying by The Mainichi newspaper on June 7. “We offer our heartfelt sympathies to the family.” The reports also notes that the investigation into the causes of the crash are ongoing. Parts of the heavily damaged flight data recorder were recovered last month.

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Earlier this week, Japan’s defense minister announced that the MoD has stopped searching for the missing aircraft. The U.S. search effort already ended in the third week of April. Notably, the U.S. Navy chartered a privately-owned deep-sea search vessel, the Singapore-operated Van Gogh, to support search efforts by the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology research vessel Kaimei and the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) submarine rescue ship JS Chiyoda (ASR-404).

As I reported earlier this week:

[T]he commander of U.S. Pacific Air Forces, General Charles Brown, said in April that the crashed F-35A had been located. However, U.S. Forces Japan denied that the fighter jet had been found in a subsequent statement. In April, a senior U.S. Navy official said that U.S. and Japanese search parties were closing in on the F-35A’s fuselage. “We have a pretty good idea where it is,” the official was quoted as saying by CNN on April 24.

As a result of the April 9 crash, all JASDF F-35As remain grounded. This includes the 14th F-35A, assembled at the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) F-35 Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility in Nagoya. However, an unnamed Japanese government source said earlier this week that the JASDF’s fleet of 12 F-35A fighter aircraft will soon resume flight operations.