The pilot ejected from the fighter jet and was safely recovered. Earlier reports suggested there were possibly two crew members on board, but the aircraft has now been confirmed to be a single-seat F-15C Eagle. The jet reportedly took off from Kadena Air Base in Okinawa and crashed some 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the coast.
Japan’s Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said that the incident is being investigated, according to local media.
“Accidents of US military aircraft are occurring repeatedly. We would like to continue asking for their flight safety,” the ministersaid, as quoted by Kyodo news agency.
Meanwhile, Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga, who previously led a rally against US military bases on the island, said that such incidents are jeopardizing Okinawa’s future.
“We cannot fulfill our responsibilities for our children and their children if such a situation becomes the norm,” he said. “I don’t think there is a country like this among developed nations.”
The US Air Force base at Okinawa has been plagued with technical mishaps. At least 25 incidents and emergencies have taken place over Japan in 2017. On at least three occasions, objects fell from US military aircraft and onto Japanese school grounds, prompting a high alert. One school close to US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma reportedly advises students to take shelter every time helicopters approach, which has happened over 300 times since October.
US personnel themselves, about 25,000 of whom are stationed at Okinawa, have also been causing concern for the locals. Violent, sometimes deadly incidents that they have been involved in have triggered massive protests and calls to relocate the Okinawa bases. These include the 2016 rape and murder of a Japanese woman by an American army base worker and a drunk-driving case where a Japanese man was killed in 2017. The US military temporarily imposed restrictions on movement and drinking alcohol to curtail the incidents, but local officials demand more decisive action and Okinawa residents stage massive protests against American deployment.