A US military aircraft crashed into the sea off a western Japanese island on Wednesday, killing at least one crew member with the condition of at least two hauled from waters unclear, local media reported. A coast guard official said that the wreckage from the tilt-rotor V-22 Osprey was found at a spot some 3 km (2 miles) from Yakushima island in Kagoshima prefecture. The official said that a person was recovered from the ocean who was unconscious and was later confirmed to have died. A search was continuing for the remaining crew members.
The US military has sent rescue boats and aircraft to the scene of the crash, which occurred shortly before 3 pm, with witnesses saying that the left engine appeared to be on fire as it descended into the water, national broadcaster NHK reported. The Osprey, which can function as both a helicopter and a turboprop plane, is utilized by the Marines, Navy, and Japan Self-Defense Forces.
It is the latest in a series of incidents involving the aircraft, which has been involved in fatal accidents on land and at sea. Another MV-22 Osprey crashed in December 2016 off Okinawa, causing a temporary grounding of the aircraft because of safety concerns. Defense Ministry spokesman Hiroyuki Miyazawa said that the crashed aircraft belonged to the Yokota air base in western Tokyo and was en route from the US Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi to Kadena Air Base on Okinawa at the time of the incident.
A coast guard official said a person was pulled from the water at Anbo Port, 1.8 miles from the site of the crash on the eastern side of Yakushima island. The unnamed victim was pronounced dead at the hospital. He added that the Coast Guard had reported that the aircraft was carrying eight people but revised the number to six later.
The Coast Guard said it received an emergency call from a fishing boat near the accident site at about 2.40 pm. An Osprey disappeared from radar after the crash, the official said.
A helicopter and patrol boats searched the area after the crash and found gray-colored debris believed to be from the Osprey, the official said. The coast guard later said a person was pulled from the water unconscious and not breathing and was taken to hospital where they were confirmed to have died. A representative of a fisheries cooperative in the region said they had rescued three people from the waters, but their condition was unknown.
The United States has about 54,000 troops in Japan, including a contingent based at the US bases in southern Kyushu. The country suffered an economic and military setback in World War II and has a long-standing security partnership with the US. The country also shares a security treaty with China and has been increasingly concerned about the rise of Beijing’s military influence in the region. The two sides have a series of annual joint drills.