Tokyo officials have asked the US military to investigate an incident in which an American fighter jet dropped a fuel tank that landed in a residential area.
Suspicious metal objects were found in the coastal town of Fukaura, with a population of some 7,600 people, earlier this week. The debris, which landed in the center of the town, was later confirmed to be parts of an F-16 fuel tank.
On Tuesday, the Misawa Air Base in the north of Japan's main island of Honshu confirmed there was an emergency with a US Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon. According to the military, two external fuel tanks were dropped from the jet before it landed at Aomori International Airport. Officials from the base initially claimed the tanks fell in a nonresidential area.
The pilot wasn't injured, they said, but the plane remained on the airport's single runway for a while, disrupting commercial flights.
The Japanese Defense Ministry called on US forces to conduct a proper investigation into the incident, Kyodo news agency reported on Wednesday. Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said the US military had been issued a request to ground the fighter jets until they are confirmed safe for operation.
The governor of the Aomori prefecture, Shingo Mimura, said his government would also make "a serious protest" to the US military over the incident. "I am taking this very seriously, seeing as it involved a heavy volume of flammable fuel and the possibility of a major disaster," he stated.
In a meeting with the Fukaura mayor, a commander from the Misawa Air Base, Colonel Timothy Murthy, acknowledged that the tank "regrettably" landed in the town, saying, "We are very thankful that it didn't injure anyone." He added that "a very thorough investigation" had been launched.
Objects that were about 1 meter long (3.5 feet) were found by police near Fukaura town hall, and some 20 to 30 meters from residential houses, after scared locals reported smelling oil and hearing thunderous sounds. What was later identified as aviation fuel was reportedly splattered all over the road. The debris was confirmed to be bits of just one fuel tank, with the landing location of the other one still unknown.
It's not the first fuel dumping incident by US fighter jets in the northeastern prefecture. Previously, F-16s dropped tanks into a lake and the sea, raising safety concerns among the locals.