Five missing after two US military planes crash off Japan
Rescue operations were underway on 6 December for five US marines missing after two American military aircraft crashed during a refuelling operation off the coast of Japan, the Japanese defence minister said.
One crew member has already been rescued and is thought to be in a stable condition, Takeshi Iwaya told reporters.
A spokesman for the Japan Self Defense Forces (SDF) said another crew member had been found but there were no immediate details of the marine's condition. ‘The marine is being transported to a local hospital for evaluation,’ the US military said in a statement.
‘US military and the Japanese Self Defense planes and vessels are searching for those still missing... I hope all the members will be rescued safely as soon as possible,’ Iwaya added.
The marines were conducting ‘regularly scheduled training’ when the crash occurred around 2:00am local time, the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force said in a statement.
The F/A-18 fighter jet with two crew onboard and a KC-130 refuelling tanker with five crew crashed into the sea around 100km (55nm) off the cape of Muroto in southwestern Japan, Iwaya said.
The crew member rescued had been in the fighter jet, the minister confirmed.
Japan's SDF had deployed nine aircraft and three vessels for the search, he said.
‘We are thankful for the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force's efforts as they immediately responded in the search and rescue operation,’ the Marines said.
A spokesman for the Japanese coastguard said six vessels and an aircraft had been dispatched separately to assist in the rescue efforts.
There are few details about the circumstances of what the Marines described as a ‘mishap’ and an investigation is underway.
Public broadcaster NHK sent a helicopter to try to find the crash site but was unable to locate it due to heavy fog and rain.
The US military has about 50,000 troops stationed in Japan and accidents are not uncommon.
In November, a US navy fighter jet crashed into the sea off Japan's southern island of Okinawa and its two crew members were rescued alive.
And in November 2017, a C-2A ‘Greyhound’ aircraft with 11 people on board went down in the Philippine Sea - eight were rescued and the search was called off for the remaining three after a two-day search.
The US military has also experienced difficulties with its Osprey helicopters, with several emergency landings, a deadly crash and a piece of chopper falling on the grounds of a Japanese school.
Those incidents have stoked tensions between close military allies Washington and Tokyo and led to protests against the deployment of Ospreys by residents living near US bases.
Yoshihiko Fukuda, mayor of Iwakuni that hosts the US base where the two aircraft were based, told the city assembly he had asked the military to halt operations until the cause of the accident became clear.
‘I will urge the government and the US military to take thorough measures in finding out the cause of the accident and preventing a repeat,’ said Fukuda.
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