SAPPORO – An Air Self-Defense Force fighter jet on a training mission mistakenly fired into civilian facilities Monday in Hokkaido, police and the Defense Agency said.
|A 20mm practice bullet mistakenly fired by an ASDF fighter jet remains embedded in the parking lot of a rehabilitation center in Katahiroshima, Hokkaido.|
Nobody was injured in the mishap, in which 188 rounds were fired from the F-4 Phantom’s 20mm cannon.
Some of the 100-gram rounds, 7.7 cm in length and 2 cm in diameter, traveled for 5 km and hit the roofs of buildings at a rehabilitation center in the city of Kitahiroshima, a vehicle in the center’s parking lot and a road at a golf course at around 10:55 a.m., police and city officials said.
Police, who confirmed that 13 rounds hit the parking lot and roofs of the center, said the rear window of a car in the lot was shattered.
While Self-Defense Forces fighters and vessels have mistakenly fired shots in the past, it is extremely unusual for civilian facilities to be damaged in such incidents.
The Defense Agency immediately halted all drills involving ASDF aircraft carrying live ammunition, agency officials said.
The F-4 belongs to the Southwestern Composite Air Division in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, according to the ASDF’s Second Air Wing. It was on a firing drill with three other fighters at a Ground Self-Defense Force range in Eniwa, western Hokkaido.
The four planes left an ASDF base in Chitose, close to Eniwa, at 10:46 a.m., the air wing said, adding two officers were aboard each fighter.
The plane’s cannon is only able to fire when the power is turned on and the safety catch released. The pilot said he did not activate it.
The damage could have been much worse. Combat rounds usually have explosive tips that detonate on impact. Fortunately, the rounds fired by the jet were training rounds and much less destructive, according to the air wing. The cannon can fire up to 6,000 rounds per minute.
About 300 people at the rehabilitation center saw a flash of light outside and heard crunching sounds before the plane passed overhead, center officials said.
Takahiro Fukura, one of the officials, said the accident could have caused a disaster.
“There are usually some people in the parking lot. It was very fortunate there was nobody at the time of the incident,” he told reporters.
A car belonging to Shigenori Nitta, a 54-year-old official of the facility, had its rear window shattered by a bullet in the parking lot. Later on Monday, Nitta found the bullet piercing his golf bag in the car.
“It’s very scary to think if I had been here,” he said.
“We think this is an outrageous incident,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said at a news conference Monday. “We are relieved that local residents were not hurt, but it is outrageous such an incident should take place at all.
“We think that investigations into the cause of the incident should be carried out firmly,” the top government spokesman said. “We will have officials immediately begin studying ways to prevent such a thing from happening again.”
Ken Sato, administrative vice head of the Defense Agency, offered an apology and said the agency will do its utmost to prevent a similar accident.
“Something that should never have happened happened. We apologize to residents in the area of the incident,” he told a regular news conference.
The incident shocked people in municipalities that host ASDF bases.
Hokkaido Gov. Tatsuya Hori, Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine and Naha Mayor Takeshi Onaga separately urged the ASDF to investigate the case thoroughly to find the cause of accident.
Hori said his prefectural government has demanded Monday afternoon that the ASDF suspend all drills until the cause of the accident is clarified.
In late April, a 12.7mm shell was found in a greenhouse in Shihoro, central Hokkaido. The round is suspected to have been fired by the GSDF during a drill.
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