Remains Of Japanese F-35 Pilot Found As Search Is Called Off For Crashed Aircraft

In a follow-up to our ongoing coverage on the deadly crash of an F-35A belonging to the Japan Air Self Defense Force that occurred on April 9th, 2019, the body of Major Akinori Hosomi has been found after two months of searching the waters off northeastern Japan. The condition of the pilot’s remains and other details regarding where the discovery occurred was not disclosed out of consideration for the experienced military aviator’s family. It has also been announced that Japan has officially called off the search and recovery operation for what’s left of the doomed F-35A. The U.S. Navy called off its participation in the search effort a month ago.

Large portions of the highly sensitive F-35 remain unaccounted for with just some debris having been recovered after it was spotted floating near where the crash is thought to have occurred and located thousands of feet below the Pacific Ocean’s surface. The aircraft disappeared roughly 85 miles off the coast of the northern portion of Honshu Island after it launched from Misawa Air Base.

The jet’s flight data recorder was recovered, but it was either too damaged to glean any data from it or its memory was missing. Now the JASDF is trying to piece together what happened via radar and communications data. Data-link information recorded by other three F-35s in the flight of four is also being used to figure out what happened, as we said would occur shortly after the jet went missing. 

Kyodo News states:

“F-35As are equipped with systems which can share flight data between jets, according to the Defense Ministry. The ASDF determined flights could resume when safety measures, based on the data received by three other jets flying with the crashed one, have been conducted.

Defense officials are believed to have now recreated part of the accident scenario based on information from that shared data, and recordings from land-based radar, according to the source.”

Japan’s F-35 force of a dozen jets still remains grounded due to the mishap, but that hasn’t stopped Japan from moving forward with their planned expanded purchase of 147 F-35As and Bs. It’s hoped that once the data has been evaluated, safety measures can be put in place and Japan’s fledgling F-35 cadre can be put back into the air.

F-35 arriving at Misawa Air Base.  , JASDF

The fact that large portions of the lost F-35 remain deep below the surface of the Pacific Ocean is very concerning. Even small fragments of its skin and its proprietary components could be a boon for foreign adversaries if they could get their hands on any of them. Now that search has ended, one could imagine that foreign actors could use decreasing activity in the area to mount a clandestine recovery operation. 

Russia, in particular, has a number of specially configured submarines capable of executing just this type of operation, and certainly, it and China have other capabilities that we don’t know about. 

According to Japan’s Minister of Defense, Takeshi Iwaya, the area is being monitored by remote underwater cameras “for the purpose of protecting classified military information.” It isn’t clear exactly what this means, but anti-submarine aircraft, navy vessels, and submarines can’t stay on station indefinitely. As such, time may be on the side of foreign powers looking to eventually mount a subsurface search and recovery operation. Hopefully, the debris located thousands of feet down is centralized enough that remote monitoring provides enough security for the jet’s major components that are still on the seafloor. Then again, if that is the case, why weren’t they recovered?

Still, a major intelligence coup could be had without even sending a high-value submarine into the area. Just pieces of the jet that have floated far from the crash site could be highly valuable. For instance, one of the aircraft’s tails was plucked from the water by Japanese searchers not long after the crash. Surely smaller fragments of the plane’s radar-evading skin have since floated away on ocean currents. In other words, even keeping an eye out and an ear open for items caught in fishermen’s nets or washed up on shores could result in a substantial gain in technological knowledge regarding some of the F-35’s most sensitive secrets. 

Regardless, it is bittersweet to hear that the pilot’s remains were recovered. On one hand, it is good that the family has some closure to their terrible loss. On the other, it’s another reminder of how quickly even an experienced hand in the cockpit flying the most advanced fighter in the world can meet their demise.

The Major never even sent a mayday call before disappearing into the depths of the Pacific. 

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Tyler Rogoway


Tyler’s passion is the study of military technology, strategy, and foreign policy and he has fostered a dominant voice on those topics in the defense media space. He was the creator of the hugely popular defense site Foxtrot Alpha before developing The War Zone.