TOKYO (AP) — Japan suspended flights of its Osprey aircraft Thursday, a day after a Japan-based U.S. Air Force Osprey crashed into the sea during a training mission, officials said.
Tokyo says it has also asked the US military to ground all Ospreys operating in Japan except those involved in search operations at the crash site. At least one of the eight crew members aboard died, but the condition of the others is not yet known.
Taro Yamato, a senior defense ministry official, told a parliamentary hearing that Japan had suspended Osprey flights until details of the accident and safety were confirmed. The cause of Wednesday's accident is not yet known.
The US-made Osprey is a hybrid aircraft that takes off and lands like a helicopter, but can turn its propeller forward during flight and fly very fast like an airplane.
A planned training flight Thursday at Metabaru Army Camp in Saga Prefecture in southern Japan was canceled as part of the grounding of all 14 Japanese-owned Ospreys stationed at the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force base, ministry officials said. .
"The occurrence of such a major accident has caused great concern among people in the area and is truly regrettable," Defense Minister Minoru Kihara said at a parliamentary hearing on Thursday. "We have requested the US side to operate the Ospreys deployed in Japan after confirming their flight safety," he said. Their language was vague and did not clearly state that all Ospreys should be stood down.
Defense officials said they hoped the U.S. side would get the message, but NHK national television said several Ospreys flew in and out of the U.S. air base in Okinawa. An American Osprey has joined the rescue operation off the southern coast of Japan, defense officials said.
The coast guard as well as Japanese troops searched overnight, and on Thursday the coast guard began using sonar to conduct an underwater search of the broken plane, which lies on the sea floor at a depth of about 30 meters (100 ft). Must have drowned. Feet).
Ospreys have had several crashes, including in Japan, where they are used on U.S. and Japanese military bases, and the latest crash has reignited safety concerns and controversy over deployment in Japan. In Okinawa, where about half of the 50,000 US troops are based, Governor Denny Tamaki said he would ask the US military to suspend all Osprey flights over Japan.
On Thursday, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa met with U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel at her ministry, and asked the United States to "immediately provide information to the Japanese side." Emanuel said the focus now turned to the search for the missing crew members and thanked Japanese soldiers, the coast guard and local fishermen for "sticking together."
NHK public television and other news outlets reported that the plane had requested an emergency landing at Yakushima Airport about five minutes before disappearing from radar. NHK quoted a Yakushima resident as saying he saw the plane overturn, fire coming from one of its engines and then an explosion before falling into the sea.
The U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command said the CV-22B Osprey was one of six deployed to Yokota Air Base, home to U.S. Forces Japan and Fifth Air Force, and was assigned to the 353rd Special Operations Wing.
Japanese officials said the plane took off from US Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture and crashed en route to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa.
Last year, the Air Force Special Operations Command ordered the temporary grounding of its Osprey fleet after a series of safety incidents where the Osprey clutch slipped, causing uneven distribution of power across its rotors .
The Marine Corps and Navy have reported similar clutch slips, and each service has worked to address the problem in its aircraft, although clutch failure was also cited in the fatal 2022 U.S. Marine Corps Osprey crash . Due to which five died.
According to the investigation of that accident, the engine failed due to "dual hard clutch engagement".
Separately, a US Marine Corps Osprey carrying 23 Marines crashed on a northern Australian island In August, three Marines were killed and at least five others were seriously injured who were participating in a multinational training exercise.
Coop reported from Washington.