U.S. Marine pilots at Iwakuni engaged in in-flight misconduct: report

Some pilots at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in western Japan were found to have engaged in acts of misconduct during flights, including striking various poses for selfies in the cockpit, an investigation report by U.S. forces has shown.
The report examined a fatal crash last December involving a fighter jet and a tanker plane off Japan's western coast as well as a midair collision in April 2016 between a fighter jet and a tanker plane off the coast of Okinawa, both occurring during airborne refueling.
Although the investigation initially covered the fatal crash last year, findings have prompted the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing to order a formal probe on the Okinawa collision, which the report said occurred "under very similar circumstances" as the fatal crash.
The report released in September said, "If the mishap that occurred in 2016 had been investigated as required, remedial measures could have been properly implemented to prevent future similar mishaps, like this one (in 2018)."
In both accidents involving F/A-18 fighter jets and KC-130 tanker planes, the fighter jets belonging to Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 242 were deemed responsible.
The investigation found "a command climate of general unprofessionalism and misconduct," said the report.
"Examples of such unprofessionalism included prescription and over-the-counter drug abuse, excessive alcohol consumption, adultery, orders violations, and failures in following fundamental principles of professional aviation training and operations," it said.
Following the investigation, four officers were dismissed including the commanding officer, who was found to have posted a selfie on his profile on the WhatsApp messaging service showing him in flight with his oxygen mask off and his visor up.
Another officer shared a selfie showing him reading a book with both hands off the controls and mask off, while another shared a selfie with mask off grooming his mustache with a comb, both images taken in-flight, the report said.
In the 2018 collision that took place about 100 kilometers south of Cape Muroto in Kochi Prefecture, a total of six Marines died or went missing.
A component of a sleep inducing drug was found in the urine of two crew members on the jet, suggesting they were "not medically fit for flight duties at the time of the mishap," the report said.
In the 2016 collision off the coast of Okinawa in southwestern Japan, an F/A-18 jet and a KC-130 tanker plane collided in the air and sheared off a portion of the tanker plane's refueling hose. The planes landed at the U.S. Kadena Air Base, with no injuries reported.
U.S. forces had not reported the 2016 collision in Okinawa to the Japanese government.
"We have made inquiries to the U.S. Marines about details of the accident and why it was not notified, and we're waiting for their response," a Japanese Defense Ministry official told Kyodo News.
"Notifications to the (Japanese government) regarding aviation mishaps take place in accordance with bilateral agreements between the U.S. government and the government of Japan," a U.S. forces spokesman in Okinawa said but did not explain about terms on which they decided not to report the incident.
Residents of Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture expressed anger by the findings of misconduct, with some calling for suspending U.S. military aircraft flights.
"They're extremely dangerous behaviors," said 74-year-old Jungen Tamura, a former Iwakuni city assembly member who monitors activities at the Iwakuni base. "They could cause an accident and (U.S. forces) need to suspend flights immediately."
Makoto Ebuchi, a 62-year-old adviser to a citizens group opposed to enhancing functions of the Iwakuni base, said, "It's shocking to find out that pilots were corrupted to this level and I'm horrified. The state and the city need to thoroughly study how to re-educate them."

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