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US Osprey military aircraft crashes into sea near Japan with six on board

A US Osprey military aircraft crashed on Wednesday off a Japanese island, killing one crew member and leaving five unaccounted for.

One unconscious person had been found in the sea near the scene of the crash off the island of Yakushima but was later “confirmed dead in hospital”, the Japanese coastguard said.

It also revised downwards an earlier statement to say that six crew had been on board instead of eight.

The aircraft disappeared from radar at 2.40pm when it came down off the east coast of Yakushima, with the coast guard informed that it had crashed at 2.47pm, national broadcaster NHK reported. Weather conditions were calm and clear at the time.

The coast guard was informed of the crash in an emergency call from a fishing boat operating nearby.

Wreckage believed to belong to a US military aircraft
A wreck believed to belong to the Osprey that crashed into the sea off Yakushima Island, western Japan - Japan Coast Guard/Handout via REUTERS

Witnesses told authorities that the Osprey’s port engine was on fire as it descended. The first recovery teams at the site reported seeing parts of an aircraft in the water.

The aircraft is understood to have been flying from the US Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, in central Japan, to the US Kadena Air Base in Okinawa Prefecture, where the bulk of US forces in Japan are stationed.

The US military said it was still gathering information about the incident.

Hiroyuki Miyazawa, the Japanese vice defense minister, said the aircraft had attempted an emergency sea landing and quoted the US military as saying its pilot “did everything possible until the last minute.”

Osprey aircraft in Japan
An Osprey aircraft, similar to the one that crashed on Tuesday, flying over the Japanese city of Ginowan - AFP/AFP

Osprey has poor safety record

The aircraft, which has large rotors that enable it to take off like a helicopter and then pivot forward to enable it to fly like a conventional airplane, has a chequered safety record and there have been several incidents involving Ospreys in Japan since it went into service in 2007. Versions of the aircraft are flown by the US Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force.

An Osprey crashed during multinational exercises in northern Australia in August. Of the 23 crew and troops aboard, three were killed and five sustained serious injuries.

There have been at least five Osprey crashes that have resulted in fatalities since 2012.

In July, Japan’s self-defence forces grounded its entire fleet of 14 Ospreys after a report into an accident involving a US Marine aircraft near San Diego in June 2022 identified a mechanical fault. The Japanese aircraft have since been cleared to resume operations.

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