After a series of embarrassing incidents involving failures of U.S. military aircraft in Japan, a U.S. Air Force F-16 was forced to jettison two fuel pods into a lake in northern Japan on Tuesday after an engine fire placed the crew at risk. According to reports, there were as many as 10 fishermen in the vicinity of where the fuel pods splashed down, who were forced to relocate as a result of the ensuing fuel slick.
According to reports in local news outlets, the U.S. Air Force F-16 caught fire soon after it took off at around 8:40 AM local time on Tuesday. As soon as the pilot noticed the fire, he reported a state of emergency and began dumping the fuel reserves stored in fuel pods mounted on the aircraft’s munition hard points. Dumping the fuel reduces the risk of the fire spreading throughout the aircraft and reduces its weight, making landing the damaged fighter a safer endeavor.
The pilot landed the aircraft safely only two minutes after takeoff, but reports soon began reaching Air Force officials regarding the issue of floating fuel and aircraft parts in the nearby Lake Ogawarako, where locals often go to harvest clams.
“Fundamentally, flights should only be conducted after sufficient safety measures have been secured,” Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters. “We will ask U.S. officials why such an incident occurred and ask that they implement measures to prevent a recurrence.”
A number of local fisheries that operate within Lake Ogawara are expected to provide a report that will assess the impact of the incident on their businesses, which rely primarily on harvesting Clams, ice fish and smelt from the lake. At least one local fishermen reported seeing the fuel tanks hit the water.
“It’s scary. They might have been hit if the fuel tanks had fallen a bit closer,” Takao Ebina told reporters.
A slew of incidents involving Marine Corps helicopters in recent months has prompted many Japanese officials to call for a halt of U.S. military flights over densely populated areas entirely.
Last August, the Japanese government formally requested the U.S. military cease all MV-22 Osprey flights after one crashed off the coast of Australia. In October, a CH-53 Sea Stallion caught fire and was forced to land on a farm in the Japanese village of Higashi. In December, a U.S. Marine Corps AH-1 attack helicopter was forced to make an emergency landing at a waste disposal site near a hotel in Yomitan only two days after a Marine Corps UH-1 helicopter from the same installation was also forced to conduct an emergency landing on a beach on Ikei Island. That same month, a window fell out of a Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion and landed in a school playground, injuring one child.
Tuesday’s incident is the first to occur in Northern Japan, but the slew of incidents in Southern Japan has already prompted many Japanese citizens to question the safety of U.S. flights over their country.
A feeling of distrust is mounting among Okinawa people as these incidents vividly illustrate that the U.S. military’s measures to prevent similar accidents are not functioning,” the Okinawa Prefectural Government wrote to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. Ambassador to Japan William Hagerty in late December.
Feature Image courtesy of the U.S. Air Force