A U.S. military plane crashed near an airport in Alabama on Friday while on a training exercise, killing two people aboard, including a member of the Air Self-Defense Force, the Japanese Defense Ministry said Saturday.
The ministry said the ASDF officer, a first lieutenant in his 20s, died in the accident aborad the U.S. Air Force T-38 aircraft, which was about to land at Montgomery Airport. It was the first fatal crash involving an ASDF member training in the United States. An Air Force instructor also aboard the plane died.
The plane, which belonged to the Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi, went down in an area about 3 kilometers from the airport at around 5 p.m., according to the ministry.
It remains unclear which of the two was piloting the plane and the cause of the crash was not immediately clear, the ministry said.
The ministry said the ASDF member belonged to an air training unit attached to the Hamamatsu air base in Shizuoka Prefecture and had been in the United States for about two years to earn a pilot's license.
The ministry is withholding the name of the first lieutenant as it has yet to obtain consent from his family.
It takes several years to become an ASDF fighter pilot, with graduates of the Air Officer Candidate School and other places first undergoing basic flight training. They then take pilot training for more than 50 weeks in Japan or the United States.
The officer killed in the accident was in the middle of this training process.
Even after obtaining a pilot's license, they end up staying in the United States for around 2½ years to undergo training and learn English. After wrapping up their final training back home, they start official duties as fighter pilots.
According to news reports, the T-38 trainer aircraft was assigned to the 14th Flying Training Wing at the base. The wing specializes in undergraduate pilot training.
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