Japan demands answers from US as fighter jets drop fuel tanks into fishing lake

Julian Ryall
Fuel from the tanks was left stricken across the icy Lake Ogawara - Moment RF

The mayor of a small town in northern Japan has demanded the US military ground fighter jets at a nearby air base after an F-16 Fighting Falcon jettisoned external fuel tanks into a lake in the latest US military failure in the country.

Local fishermen on Lake Ogawara, close to the perimeter of Misawa Air Base, reported that the two fuel tanks produced a tall column of water as they hit the lake about 600 feet away from where their boats were gathering freshwater clams.

There were no reports of injuries, although parts of the tanks were later found in the partly ice-covered lake along with a small oil slick, Jiji Press reported.

The pilot of the US aircraft reported a fire in his engine shortly after take-off at around 8.40am on Tuesday but was able to return to the base after jettisoning the two wing-mounted tanks.

“We have lots of fishermen. One wrong step could result in a catastrophe”, Koji Ebina, mayor of the town of Tohoku, in Aomori Prefecture, told reporters after a meeting with the commander of the base.

A window frame of US military aircraft fell into the playground of an elementary school in Ginowan in December Credit: Kyodo News

The local fisheries association has suspended fishing in the lake until the fuel can be cleaned up, Mr Ebina said, adding: “We will do our best to acquire compensation as soon as the amount of damages and the number of days fishing is suspended are determined."

The government has also expressed its anger over the fuel tanks – the latest in a long line of incidents involving the US military or Japan’s Self-Defence Forces.

Speaking in Tokyo, Itsunori Onodera, the defence minister, said, “We plan to seek explanations from the US side and demand measures to prevent similar accidents”.

The accident comes just over two weeks after a Japanese military helicopter crashed into a residential district in Saga Prefecture, killing the two-man crew.

There is growing public concern at the poor safety record of military aircraft, including in the southern prefecture of Okinawa, where US helicopters have been involved in a number of incidents in recent months.  In January alone, US helicopters made three emergency landings, although there were no injuries.

A school close to the US Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station in Okinawa has been forced to ban children from playing outdoors after a large metal door fell into the school playground from a helicopter.

Takashi Onaga, the governor of the prefecture, described the situation as “crazy”.