United States jet dumps fuel tanks into Aomori Pref. lake after engine fire

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A US fighter jet stationed at Misawa Air Base dumped two external fuel tanks into a lake north of the base after its engine caught on fire on the morning of February 20.

Citing reports from the USA military, Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said that a fire in the plane's engine broke out as soon as the F-16 jet took off from the Misawa Airbase in Aomori Prefecture.

The blaze caused the pilot of the Fighting Falcon - assigned to Misawa Air Base's 35th Fighter Wing - to jettison two external fuel tanks onto an unpopulated area near Lake Ogawara, said an Air Force statement issued Tuesday afternoon. Local fishermen said the tanks dropped 200 to 400 meters away from clam boats that were operating at the time.

A city official said Jobe apologized for causing anxiety among the public and pledged to recheck aircraft maintenance and reeducate pilots. The Misawa Defense Office said no injuries or damage have yet been confirmed in the wake of the incident.

While the incident caused no injuries, it has prompted anger from Japanese officials and renewed criticism of United States military presence in the country.

In January, three helicopters based at the controversial U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa made emergency "off base" landings, sparking local and national indignation and fear.

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

Meanwhile, Aomori Gov. Shingo Mimura criticized the us military's claim that the tanks were dumped after confirming that the area was unpopulated, even though clam fishermen were on the lake at the time of the incident.

A month earlier, a window fell off a CH-53E large transport helicopter and fell on the grounds of an elementary school just meters from where more than 50 children were taking physical education classes.

Onodera said he would query the reason for the fire and seek assurance from the USA that such incidents would be prevented in the future. The fuel tank is said to have pierced the roughly 1-centimeter-thick lake ice.

There is growing public concern at the poor safety record of military aircraft, including in the southern prefecture of Okinawa, where United States helicopters have been involved in a number of incidents in recent months.