December 1, 2023
TOKYO – Japanese rescuers Thursday continued to scour waters off Yakushima Island, Kagoshima Prefecture, for seven missing U.S. personnel whose Osprey aircraft crashed the previous day.
One man, believed to have been a crew member, has been confirmed dead.
The Kagoshima-based 10th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters, which is searching along with the Self-Defense Forces, said Thursday that there had been eight people aboard the plane. The U.S. military had initially stated that six people were on board, but later corrected the figure.
The search is being conducted by a patrol vessel and aircraft of the Japan Coast Guard, and a destroyer and patrol aircraft of the SDF.
The Osprey crashed about 1 kilometer east of the island, where the water is thought to be about 30-meters deep.
According to a fisherman who took part in the search Wednesday, oil — suspected to be fuel oil — was floating on the water in the vicinity, while debris was evident across a several-hundred-meter expanse.
The JCG and the SDF have expanded their search to waters off the north and southeast of the island. The JCG has also deployed a side-scan sonar, which uses sound waves to survey the seafloor.
According to a source closed to the Defense Ministry, the Osprey crashed during a training mission and was part of a formation of three aircraft flying from U.S. Iwakuni Air Station in Yamaguchi Prefecture to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa Prefecture.
Following the accident, one of the two other Ospreys landed at Yakushima Airport to coordinate rescue operations.
Speaking at a meeting of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense of the House of Councillors on Thursday, Defense Minister Minoru Kihara said he had requested the United States to suspend all Osprey flights.
The Defense Ministry has suspended operations of the Ground Self-Defense Force’s Osprey aircraft for the time being.
“I requested that [the United States] only conduct flights after safety has been confirmed, with the exception of search and rescue operations,” Kihara said. “It’s deeply regrettable that the accident caused great concern to the local community.”
‘Osprey was performing routine training mission’
The U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command said in a statement Wednesday that the CV-22 Osprey was “involved in an aircraft mishap while performing a routine training mission off the shore of Yakushima Island” in Kagoshima Prefecture.
“Emergency personnel are on scene conducting search and rescue operations. The cause of the mishap is currently unknown,” it also said.
The U.S. Air Force suspended operations of the CV-22 Osprey on Aug.16 last year after multiple accidents occurred in a short period of time due to clutch malfunctions. Operations resumed the following month after risk management measures were implemented.