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21 Apr, 2024 16:53

Japanese naval choppers suffer fatal collision

One crew member was pulled from the Pacific Ocean and seven others are still missing after a training exercise went awry
Japanese naval choppers suffer fatal collision

Two Japanese Navy patrol helicopters reportedly crashed in mid-air on Sunday, killing one crew member and sending seven others into the Pacific Ocean, who remain missing. The crash came just a year after ten Japanese soldiers died in a similar incident.

The two Mitsubishi SH-60K helicopters were conducting anti-submarine training exercises on Saturday night near the remote Izu islands, around 500 kilometers south of Tokyo. Communication with one chopper was lost at around 10:38pm, and military personnel lost contact with the second around 25 minutes later, Japan’s NHK broadcaster reported.

Rescuers dispatched to the scene “spotted what are believed to be part of the aircraft in the sea, and we believe that the two helicopters crashed,” Japanese Defense Minister Minoru Kihara told reporters on Sunday. In a follow-up briefing, the minister confirmed that the body of one crew member had been recovered, and that the other seven were still missing.

“The flight recorders are being analyzed,” Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) Chief of Staff Ryo Sakai told reporters, adding that the crew of a third helicopter that took part in the exercise were being interviewed.

The crash came just over a year after a UH-60JA helicopter operated by the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force crashed off Miyako Island, roughly halfway between the Japanese island of Okinawa and Taiwan. Ten soldiers died in the crash, and investigators never discovered whether the chopper plunged into the ocean due to a technical malfunction or pilot error.

American forces in Japan have also suffered a string of air crashes in recent years. Eight US crew members were killed when their tilt-rotor V-22 Osprey aircraft crashed off the island of Yakushima in December, and five were injured when an Osprey crash-landed on a reef off Okinawa in 2016. Aside from the two crashes in Japan, the US has lost 11 Ospreys to accidents and malfunctions since 2007.