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US fighter pilot rescued after crash off Hokkaido

TOKYO -- The pilot of a U.S. fighter jet that crashed in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of northeastern Japan on Sunday has been rescued, Japan's Coast Guard said, six hours after the aircraft went down.

The pilot, whose name was not disclosed, was placed safely on a U.S. container ship in the region around 6 p.m. (0900 GMT), according to the coast guard, one of several agencies that sent vessels to assist in the rescue.

The F-16 Fighter Falcon went down some 200 miles northeast of Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island, according to an earlier statement by the U.S. Air Force.

The U.S. Air Force said it was still preparing a statement containing details about the pilot's rescue. It had said earlier that the pilot took off from Misawa Air Base in Aomori at about 11:30 headed for North America.

It said the cause of the crash was under investigation.

The crash coincides with heated debate over plans to deploy a U.S. military hybrid helicopter-plane with a troubled safety record in Japan from October, part of an effort to upgrade Japan's ageing fleet.

The MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft is expected to arrive at the U.S. Marines' Iwakuni Air Station on Monday. Some residents are opposed to the aircraft following crashes in Morocco and Florida in recent months.

Deputy Prime Minister Katsuya Okada was quoted by Kyodo news agency as saying that the F-16 crash should not influence discussion about deploying the Osprey: “They are completely different matters,” Okada said.

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This handout picture taken by the U.S. Air Force in December, 2011 and received via Jiji Press shows F-16 jet fighters from the U.S. Air Force taxiing on the tarmac for takeoff at Misawa Air Base in northern Japan. (AFP)

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