• Kyodo

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An Air Self-Defense Force panel began a full investigation Tuesday after an F-4 fighter accidentally fired nearly 200 cannon rounds into civilian areas during a ground attack drill Monday over western Hokkaido.

Self-Defense Forces members search a golf course for 20mm practice shells fired by mistake by an Air Self-Defense Force jet.

The panel is questioning the 32-year-old pilot of the jet to determine whether the cannon was fired through pilot error or a malfunction of the aircraft’s electrical system, ASDF officials said.

The pilot, who has about 2,100 flying hours, has told investigators that safety measures aboard the aircraft were apparently in order.

The fighter fired 188 rounds from its 20mm high-speed cannon by mistake while flying over Eniwa, western Hokkaido, shortly before 11 a.m. Monday, initial reports said. No one on the ground was injured.

The cannon can fire 6,000 rounds per minute, ASDF officials said, adding that the shells used in training do not contain explosives.

The Self-Defense Forces said Tuesday that SDF personnel found three more shells and five impact marks on vacant land neighboring a rehabilitation facility in Kitahiroshima, Hokkaido, that was hit by the rounds.

SDF members are also continuing to search a golf course in Kitahiroshima where five bullet holes believed to have been caused by the cannon fire were found, but have yet to make further discoveries there.

The SDF said that only a dozen shells have so far been found and that it will mobilize about 1,000 officers to search neighboring areas after obtaining permission from landowners.

Katsuei Hirasawa, Defense Agency parliamentary secretary, paid a visit to the Kitahiroshima Municipal Government office on Tuesday and apologized to Mayor Tetsuei Motoroku for the accident.

Hirasawa also made separate visits to the social welfare facility and the Hokkaido Prefectural Government.

About 300 people at the rehabilitation center reported seeing a flash of light and hearing loud sounds shortly before the jet passed overhead, officials at the center said.

SDF officials said fighters and warships have been involved in accidental firing incidents before, but that it is very rare for civilian facilities to be hit.

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