U.S. fighter jet crashes off Okinawa, no casualties

A U.S. military fighter jet crashed Tuesday in waters off Okinawa, with the pilot rescued uninjured, the U.S. Kadena Air Base and the Japanese government said.

The cause of the crash has yet to be determined, the U.S. base said in a statement. The unidentified pilot is "in stable condition and is being evaluated" at a medical facility, the base said.

At around 9 a.m., the U.S. military in Okinawa asked the local coast guard in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, for help, saying an F-15 crashed into the sea and the pilot was holding onto a raft after an emergency exit.

An Air Self-Defense Force helicopter rescued the pilot at around 10:10 a.m., the coast guard said. It dispatched patrol vessels along with a helicopter and airplane to the area, and located an oil slick but not the crashed jet, which belonged to the Kadena base.

The Foreign Ministry asked the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo to look into the cause of the crash, which occurred during a training flight, and to prevent a recurrence.

Japan will await a response from the U.S. side and will not immediately demand it suspend all such flights, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.

"Relevant government offices will continue to gather information while asking the U.S. forces to prevent a recurrence," the top government spokesman said.

The Okinawa prefectural government, meanwhile, said it will ask the U.S. military to suspend training using the F-15s until the cause of the crash is determined.

A senior prefectural government official is expected to visit the Kadena Air Base on Wednesday to make the request.

"The accident has given grave fears to the prefecture's citizens," Okinawa Gov. Hiroshi Nakaima said in a statement, calling on the U.S. forces to suspend F-15 training flights and prevent similar accidents.

Local residents voiced concerns as the crash was not the first of its kind in Okinawa, home to the bulk of U.S. bases in Japan. In January 2006, an F-15 plunged into the Pacific Ocean off Uruma in the central part of Okinawa Island, prompting the prefectural government to demand that F-15 training flights be suspended.

"If the jet had fallen to the ground, people in Okinawa would have been directly hit," said 69-year-old Soken Machida, who lives near the Kadena Air Base and witnessed the 1968 crash of a B-52 bomber at the base.

"The U.S. military should give priority to safety," he said.