Investigators Begin Search for Wreckage after F-35 Crash in Japan

Debris has been spotted in the Pacific where the jet went down on Wednesday night.

F-35
The F-35A that crashed on Wednesday was reportedly the first built by Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.Courtesy Lockheed Martin

Japanese Air Self Defense Force investigators say they have found a small section of wing of a Lockheed Martin F-35 that crashed into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of northern Japan on Wednesday. Now the daunting task of recovering the secretive jet and its pilot from the sea floor begins as searchers ponder whether to hire a marine salvage firm with submersible craft able to reach the wreckage.

Investigators will want to retrieve the F-35's flight data recorder, which could shed light on what caused the stealth fighter jet to plunge into the sea less than half an hour after it took off with three other F-35s from Misawa air base in Aomori prefecture on a nighttime training flight. The jet disappeared from military radar at about 7:27 p.m. local time, the ASDF said.

The F-35 that crashed was reportedly the first assembled by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. The pilot did not radio a distress call, adding to the mystery of what may have caused the jet to go down. Pentagon and Lockheed Martin officials are involved in the crash investigation as Japan grounded its F-35A fleet pending the collection of more information into the cause.

The F-35 is a single-seat, single-engine multirole fighter produced in several versions, including with vertical takeoff and landing capability in the F-35B model. The F-35A that crashed in Japan was a convention takeoff and landing version. The fighter is in service with the air forces of several U.S. allies with more due for delivery soon.

Wednesday's crash was the second for the F-35 after a crash on September 28, 2018, in which a U.S. Marine Corps F-35B went down near Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina after the pilot ejected safely All F-35s were grounded until they could be inspected for a faulty engine fuel line.