Seven missing after US Osprey crashes off Japan

Seven missing after US Osprey crashes off Japan

on November 30, 2023

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This handout photo taken and received on November 29, 2023 by Japan’s Coast Guard shows what looks like a rescue raft taken from an aircraft during the search and rescue operations after a US Osprey aircraft crashed at sea off the island of Yakushima. The US Osprey military aircraft crashed on November 29 off a Japanese island, killing one crew member and leaving five unaccounted for, the coastguard said, in the latest incident involving the tilt-rotor military aircraft. (Photo by Handout / Japan Coast Guard / AFP)

TOKYO, Nov 30, 2023 (AFP) – Rescuers scoured waters off Japan on Thursday for seven missing US Air Force personnel whose Osprey crashed during a training exercise, in the latest incident involving the tilt-rotor military aircraft.

Japan’s defence minister said he had requested that US forces in the country suspend Osprey flights in the wake of the deadly incident.

One unconscious person was found in the sea and later declared dead after the aircraft crashed off the island of Yakushima on Wednesday, according to the Japanese coastguard.

US Air Force Special Operations Command said eight crew had been aboard the CV-22B Osprey in the “routine training mission” out of Yokota Air Base in Japan.

“The cause of the mishap is currently unknown,” it said in a statement Wednesday, with emergency personnel “on scene conducting search and rescue operations.”

An emergency management official in the Kagoshima region where the crash took place said police had received information that the aircraft had been “spewing fire from a left engine”.

Photos released by the coastguard showed what appeared to be an overturned yellow life raft and other debris in the water off Yakushima, which lies south of Japan’s southernmost main island of Kyushu.

A Japanese coastguard spokesman told AFP on Thursday that the search operation had continued through the night and involved six patrol ships and two aircraft.

Police and local rescuers were also involved, and the coastguard said it would use special sonar devices to scan the sea floor.

The coastguard had initially said eight crew were on board before revising the number down to six and then back to eight.

This handout photo taken on November 29, 2023 by Japan’s 10th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters and received via Jiji Press shows the remains of a US Osprey aircraft that crashed at sea off the island of Yakushima. The US Osprey military aircraft crashed on November 29 off a Japanese island, killing one crew member and leaving five unaccounted for, the coastguard said, in the latest incident involving the tilt-rotor military aircraft. (Photo by Handout / various sources / AFP)

– String of crashes –

The Osprey, developed by Bell Helicopters and Boeing and which can operate like a helicopter or a fixed-wing plane, has suffered a string of fatal crashes.

In August, a crash in northern Australia killed three US marines among the 23 on board.

Four US Marines were killed in Norway last year when their MV-22B Osprey aircraft went down during NATO training exercises.

Three Marines died in 2017 when another Osprey crashed after clipping the back of a transport ship while trying to land at sea off Australia’s north coast.

And 19 Marines died in 2000 when their Osprey crashed during drills in Arizona.

(FILES) This file photo taken on March 15, 2022 shows a US Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft landing during a joint exercise with Japanese Self Defense Forces members at the Higashifuji training area in Gotemba, Shizuoka Prefecture. A US Osprey military aircraft with eight people on board crashed on November 29, 2023 off the coast of Japan, the coastguard said. (Photo by Charly TRIBALLEAU / AFP)

– Grounded –

In 2016, an MV-22 Osprey crash-landed off Okinawa, prompting the US to temporarily ground the aircraft in Japan after the accident sparked anger among locals.

On Thursday, Defence Minister Minoru Kihara said he had asked the US military to suspend flights again following the latest crash.

“After receiving the first news, we searched to save lives, and this morning we made the request to the USFJ’s commander,” Kihara told an upper house diplomacy and defence committee, referring to United States Forces Japan.

Japan requested that US forces cease Osprey flights until their “safety is confirmed, except for search and rescue operations”, Kihara said.

“We are requesting swift disclosure of information about situations surrounding the accident,” he added.

The US military, which has around 54,000 personnel in Japan, was yet to comment on the suspension request.

Government spokesman Hirokazu Matsuno said Japan’s military had already suspended flights of its own Ospreys “until safety is confirmed” while expressing condolences over the crash.

“This kind of incident brings about great anxiety among residents in the region, and is extremely regrettable,” he said.