• Kyodo

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Japan has asked the U.S. military to investigate the dumping of two fuel tanks by an F-16 fighter jet before it made an emergency landing at an airport in Aomori Prefecture, officials said Wednesday.

The U.S. fighter jet landed at Aomori Airport at around 6:10 p.m. on Tuesday. While there were no reports of injuries, at least one of the two fuel tanks apparently landed in a residential area in the prefecture, as police spotted bits of metal and liquid believed to be fuel about 20 to 30 meters from some homes.

The 35th Fighter Wing of the Misawa Base said that an F-16 fighter jet experienced a problem during a flight and its pilot jettisoned the fuel tanks into an unpopulated area close to Mount Iwaki in Aomori Prefecture.

The incident is the latest in a series of fuel dumping incidents by U.S. fighter jets in the northeastern prefecture in recent years that have stirred safety concerns among residents.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told a news conference Wednesday the government has conveyed to the U.S. forces in Japan that the dumping of the fuel tanks was regrettable.

The Defense Ministry called on the U.S. forces Tuesday to conduct an investigation to get to the bottom of the incident, the officials said.

Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi told senior ministry officials to request that the U.S. military ground F-16 fighters in the country until they are confirmed safe for operation and keep local governments around the Misawa Base informed about the matter.

Aomori Gov. Shingo Mimura told reporters Wednesday that the local government will make "a serious protest" to the U.S. military and the Defense Ministry over the incident, after the metal objects were found in Fukaura, a town with a population of some 7,600.

Aomori Airport resumed operations on Wednesday morning after the emergency landing prompted the closure of the airport's lone runway, affecting several domestic flights, according to the prefectural government.

The Tohoku Defense Bureau said Wednesday it has confirmed that the metal objects found near the municipal government office in Fukaura were from one of the two tanks dropped from the jet. The other tank has yet to be discovered.

"I heard a large sound and thought it was thunder. I was surprised that a U.S. jet had dropped it. I'm scared that it could have hit somebody," said a woman in her 80s.

In 2015, an F-16 fighter jet dumped its fuel tanks into the Sea of Japan off Aomori Prefecture, and another F-16 fighter ditched its fuel tanks into a lake near the Misawa base in 2018.

The Misawa base houses both members of the U.S. military and the Self-Defense Forces.

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