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ASDF to resume F-35A flights four months after fatal crash off northern Japan

Kyodo

The Defense Ministry resumed flights of Air Self-Defense Force F-35A stealth fighter jets Thursday afternoon, having suspended them since a fatal crash in April, the first ever reported for the aircraft.

In June, the ministry concluded that the crash of an F-35A into the Pacific Ocean off Aomori Prefecture had likely been the result of the pilot suffering vertigo. The ministry has since received consent to resume flights from the heads of local governments in Aomori Prefecture, which hosts 12 F-35As.

“We’ve taken thorough measures for safety management,” Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya told reporters Thursday morning.

The ministry has also taken steps such as performing inspections of the remaining fighters and conducting additional pilot training.

During a night exercise on April 9, Maj. Akinori Hosomi, the 41-year-old pilot, is believed to have lost his bearings due to “spatial disorientation” after taking off from Misawa Air Base in Aomori. He was later confirmed dead.

The ministry said it will not conduct night training for F-35As for the time being, and flight exercises in the daytime will focus on basic flying skills.

Despite the accident, Iwaya has said that Japan will maintain its plan to purchase more F-35As from the United States and eventually deploy a total of 105.

According to the ministry’s interim report released in June, there were no abnormalities about the body of the cutting-edge jet nor signs that Hosomi had tried to eject. His plane plunged into the sea at a speed of over 1,100 kilometers per hour.

The ministry said it will issue a final report soon.

With the cooperation of the U.S. forces, the SDF recovered the debris of a flight data recorder from the crashed F-35A in the area of the sea where debris from the jet was recovered. But neither the recorder’s storage medium nor any parts of Hosomi’s body were found.

Aomori Gov. Shingo Mimura and Misawa Mayor Yoshinori Kohiyama had agreed to the resumption of flights by Monday, following the ministry’s explanation of its safety measures.