Losses and Aviation Safety

F-16 that destroyed an SA-3 during operation Northern Watch jettisoned at least one drop tank in residential area in Japan during in-flight emergency

The aircraft involved in the accident is F-16C Block 50D #91-0382 that participated in Operation Northern Watch in the late 1990s and was seen with six HARM missile markings and one SA-3 kill.

An F-16 Fighting Falcon assigned to the 35th Fighter Wing at Misawa Air Base, Japan, experienced an in-flight emergency at approximately 6 p.m., on Nov. 30, 2021. In response to the emergency, the pilot jettisoned two external fuel tanks. One of the fuel tanks landed in in a residential area in the town of Fukaura, Aomori Prefecture. The aircraft landed safely and has been secured away from the runway at the Aomori airport. There were no injuries to the pilot or people on the ground.

According to Kyodo News, on Dec. 1 Japan asked the US military Wednesday to ground F-16 fighter jets in the country, Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said.

The Defense Ministry said it has made the request to suspend operations of F-16 fighter jets s until their safety is confirmed.

The ministry also called on the US forces Tuesday to investigate the incident, officials said.

Kishi told reporters he takes the matter “very seriously” and instructed ministry officials “to work closely with the United States to collect and analyze information to ensure that all possible measures are taken.”

Initially the 35th Fighter Wing said that the F-16 jettisoned the fuel tanks in an unpopulated area close to Mt. Iwaki in Aomori Prefecture after having experienced a problem during a training sortie.

Pieces of a fuel tank dumped from a U.S. F-16 fighter jet belonging to Misawa Air Base are pictured in the morning on Dec. 1, 2021, in Fukaura, Aomori Prefecture. (Kyodo)

Police spotted bits of metal and liquid believed to be fuel about 20 to 30 meters from some homes in the town of Fukaura with a population of some 7,600, which is about 30 kilometers away from Mt. Iwaki.

“Safety, always considered a priority, especially for our Airmen and our Japanese neighbors, is key to mission success,” said Col. Timothy B. Murphy, the 35th FW vice commander, in a press release. “Our pilot acted quickly and in accordance with standard procedures to minimize the risk of injury and potential damage. As we conduct a thorough investigation to determine the root cause of this incident, we are grateful to our Japanese partners and local community leaders for their understanding in this matter.”

Murphy told Fukaura Mayor Mitsuru Yoshita as they met on Dec. 1, “We regret very much that the fuel tank came into the town. We are very thankful that it didn’t injure anyone.”

Murphy also said it was regrettable the wing had initially said the pilot jettisoned the tanks in an unpopulated area. The incident is currently under investigation.

Aomori Airport resumed operations on Dec. 1 in the 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 has confirmed that the metal objects found near the municipal government offices in Fukaura were from one of the two tanks dropped from the jet. The other tank has yet to be discovered.

F-16C Block 50D #91-0382

The tank dumping follows a number of similar incidents by US fighter jets in the northeastern prefecture in recent years.

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.

According to Alert 5, the aircraft involved in the accident is F-16C Block 50D #91-0382 that participated in Operation Northern Watch in the late 1990s and was seen with six HARM missile markings and one SA-3 kill.

The 35th Fighter Wing is the host unit at Misawa Air Base — the northernmost U.S. installation in Japan and the only bilateral, joint-service, civilian-use air base in the Pacific. Misawa Air Base is located on the shores of Lake Ogawara in Misawa City in the Aomori Prefecture.

The wing operates and maintains two squadrons of F-16CM (C and D models) Block 50 Fighting Falcons. The pilots of the 13th and 14th Fighter Squadrons conduct daily flight training including air-to-air tactics over water and air-to-ground weapons delivery at Draughon Range. The 35th Fighter Wing is the Air Force’s premier Wild Weasel organization and specializes in the suppression and destruction of enemy air defenses including surface-to-air-missile systems.

Photo credit: screenshot from YouTube and Kyodo

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-16CM Fighting Falcon – Wild Weasel 50th Anniversary, 2015
Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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