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A top Japanese official expressed concern Friday that the U.S. is still flying a specific type of military aircraft in the country, despite requests to ground it after one carrying eight people crashed into the sea off Japan’s coast on Wednesday, Nov. 29.
Japanese Coast Guard officials say the aircraft, a CV-22 Osprey from the U.S. Air Force Yokota Air Base, crashed near the island of Kyushu. The country’s defense minister, Minoru Kihara, said in a press conference that one crew member had died, according to Kyodo News. The fates of seven other people reportedly on board were unknown Friday, as search and rescue efforts continued.
Denny Tamaki, the governor of Okinawa Prefecture in Japan, said he asked the U.S. military to pause all Osprey flights in Japan after the crash, leading to concern from another official Friday that this hadn’t happened.
“We are concerned about the continuing Osprey flights despite our repeated requests and the absence of a sufficient explanation about their safety,” chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said, as reported by the Associated Press.
The Pentagon has continued flying Ospreys in Japan and deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh said Thursday she wasn’t aware of that specific request. In response, Matsuno said Friday that Tokyo had "officially" made the request, Reuters reported.
Officials were first notified of the accident by a fishing boat nearby through the Japanese emergency line. The crewman was found unconscious nearly 2 miles from Anbo Port, which is near Yakushima, Japan.
The number of people onboard the aircraft has stirred some discussion. The coast guard spokesperson, Kazuo Ogawa, was initially quoted as saying the aircraft contained eight people, but later said the number had been revised to six. However, a U.S. defense official has since clarified that eight people were, in fact, onboard.
The Japanese Coast Guard has not yet shared information regarding the cause of the crash and wellbeing of the other seven people. In the meantime, Japan’s Self-Defense Forces will ground the Ospreys they operate until the circumstances around the crash are clarified, according to a defense ministry official.
Here’s what to know about the accident.
On Wednesday, officials received a call at around 2:47 p.m. local time notifying them of an accident, per NBC News. A team was immediately sent to the scene. Less than two hours later, a rescue team found gray-colored debris and an overturned life raft with no people on board.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said that the Osprey aircraft had disappeared from radar around noon, just before the coast guard was informed of the accident. The aircraft was looking to conduct an emergency landing at Yakushima airport before they lost connection to the base, according to Japanese media outlet NHK.
An eyewitness told NHK they saw a fire break out on the left wing after the aircraft turned over, before the Osprey fell into the sea.
What are Ospreys?
An Osprey is a military aircraft that is mostly used to transport “troops, equipment, and supplies from assault ships and land bases,” according to the U.S. Marine Corps.
The aircraft is dual-piloted and has a vertical take off and landing, which means that the propellers on the aircraft allow it to fly like a helicopter, as well as an airplane. Its versatility makes it more appealing to the military because the CV-22 can be used in missions that would typically require two types of aircraft, the U.S. Air Force says. The V-22 Osprey, one of many variants of this aircraft, is due to replace older helicopters and other fleets in the Corps.
But the aircraft has a complex history. In 2001, the Corps fired a commander of its V-22 Osprey squadron after he ordered members of his unit to lie on aircraft maintenance records. The aircraft was known to need intensive maintenance and had caused the death of at least 19 Marines, per a 2001 Washington Post report.
There have also been a few accidents involving the aircraft in recent years. A previous incident killed three servicemen in Australia during a training exercise being performed in August 2023. Five U.S. marines also died in San Diego in August 2022 after an “aviation mishap” while flying an Osprey during a training mission In August 2022, an Air Force commander said they would ground all 52 of its CV-22 Ospreys due to safety incidents involving the aircraft's clutch. And in February, the Marine Corps announced that it would restrict flight on a subset of V-22s until they could
In December 2016, an Osprey aircraft crashed near the Okinawa coast. That crash triggered protests in Okinawa due to safety concerns and strong anti-U.S. military sentiment, the AP reported.
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