One dead and seven missing as two Japanese navy helicopters crash

Officials believe it is ‘highly likely’ that the two choppers collided with each other before crashing into the water

Shweta Sharma
Sunday 21 April 2024 07:00 BST
An undated file photo shows a SH-60K Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force helicopter
An undated file photo shows a SH-60K Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force helicopter (EPA)

One crew member died and seven are missing after two Japanese military helicopters crashed in the Pacific Ocean, south of Tokyo after possibly colliding during a training exercise.

The two Maritime Self-Defense Force helicopters were carrying four crew members each for nighttime anti-submarine training in the waters when they lost contact above the waters, off Torishima island, Japanese defence minister Minoru Kihara said.

A search and rescue operation has been launched to find the seven missing personnel with the MSDF and Air Self-Defense Force together deploying 12 warships and seven aircraft. Japan Coast Guard patrol boats and aircraft also joined the operation.

Mr Kihara said in a televised press conference on Sunday that a crew member who was found has been pronounced dead.

"I am very sorry that the situation has come to this point," he said. "As for the other seven, we are doing our best to find and rescue them."

It is "highly likely” that the two SH-60K collided with each other before crashing into the water, Mr Kihara said, adding that they are investigating the exact cause of the crash.

He added his ministry will suspend training flights for all SH-60s for now.

Rescuers have recovered the flight data recorder, a blade from each copper fragment believed to be from both choppers in the same area, suggesting that the two SH-60Ks were flying in close proximity of each other, he said.

One of the choppers lost contact at 10.38pm (1338 GMT) and sent an automatic emergency signal a minute later. They lost contact about 270kms (150 nautical miles) east of Torishima island, the defence minister said.

Mr Kihara said that only one distress call was heard, another sign indicating that the two helicopters were likely in close proximity as their signals shared the same frequency and could not be distinguished from each other.

One helicopter belonged to an air base in Nagasaki, and the other to a base in Tokushima prefecture in Japan.

The Seahawks, SH-60K aircraft are twin-engine, multi-mission aircraft developed by Sikorsky, were modified and produced in Japan by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

They are usually deployed on destroyers for anti-submarine warfare but are also used for search and rescue and other missions. Japan has about 70 of the modified helicopters.

Last year, a Ground Self-Defense Force UH-60 Blackhawk crashed near Rollback Island due to an engine output problem known as "rollback," leaving all 10 crew members dead.

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