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TOKYO: A missing Japanese F-15 frontline fighter is believed to have crashed and its two crew members remain unaccounted for, Japan said on Tuesday.

The Japan Air Self-Defence Force jet disappeared from air traffic control radars on Monday shortly after take-off, around 5 kilometres (3 miles) from Komatsu air base on the Sea of Japan coast, which has two tactical fighter squadrons, according to the defence ministry.

Speaking to reporters, Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi dismissed an early media report that one of the pilots had been found.

Search and rescue helicopters and three coast guard ships continued their search after earlier finding aircraft debris in the sea, the Japan Coast Guard said in a press release.

Most of the Boeing Co F-15 jets flown by Japan were built under licence by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and have been Japan's mainstay frontline fighter for four decades, regularly scrambling to respond to Chinese and Russian aircraft probing the country's airspace.

Japan has around 200 F-15s, half of which will be upgraded by Boeing to extend their operating life and improve capability.

Boeing reports large loss on $3.8bn costs tied to 787 woes

Most of Japan's F-15s are single-seat aircraft, with the two-seater variant used for training.

In 2019, a Japanese Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter on a training mission crashed into Pacific Ocean after its pilot likely experienced spatial disorientation.

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