TOKYO (AP) — A U.S. Air Force Osprey based in Japan crashed Wednesday during a training mission off the country’s southern coast, killing at least one of its eight crew members, the Japanese coast guard said.
The cause of the crash and the condition of the seven other people on board were not immediately known, Japanese Coast Guard spokesman Kazuo Ogawa said.
The Osprey is a hybrid aircraft that takes off and lands like a helicopter, but when in flight it can spin its propellers forward and travel very fast like an airplane.
Ospreys have suffered several accidents in the past, including in Japan, where they are stationed at US and Japanese military bases. In Okinawa, where half of the 50,000 U.S. troops are based, Gov. Denny Tamaki told reporters Wednesday that he would ask the U.S. military to ground all Osprey aircraft in Japan.
Ogawa said the coast guard received an emergency call Wednesday afternoon from a fishing boat near the crash site on Yakushima, an island south of Kagoshima on the southern main island of Kyushu.
Coast Guard aircraft and patrol boats located a male crew member, who was later pronounced dead by a doctor at a nearby port, Ogawa said. They also found gray debris from the plane and an empty inflatable life raft about 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) off Yakushima’s east coast, he said.
The Coast Guard said they planned to continue the search through the night.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said the Osprey disappeared from radar minutes before an emergency call was made to the coast guard. The plane requested an emergency landing at Yakushima airport five minutes before it disappeared from radar, public broadcaster NHK and other news outlets reported.
NHK quoted a Yakushima resident as saying he saw the plane turn upside down, a fire coming from one of its engines, and then exploding before it crashed into the sea.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he planned to seek further explanation from the US military, but declined to say whether he would suspend Osprey operations in Japan.
The CV-22B Osprey is assigned to the 353rd Special Operations Wing from Yokota Air Base, the US Air Force’s Special Operations Command said in a statement.
The plane took off from the US Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture and crashed en route to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Ogawa said.
Japanese Deputy Defense Minister Hiroyuki Miyazawa said it attempted an emergency sea landing and its pilot “did everything possible until the last minute,” citing the US military.
Yokota Air Base is home to US Forces Japan and the Fifth Air Force. Six CV-22 Ospreys, including the one that crashed, are stationed at Yokota.
The US Marine Corps flies most of the Ospreys based in Japan, and the Air Force also stations some there.
Last year, the Air Force’s Special Operations Command ordered the temporary grounding of its Osprey fleet following safety incidents, including a slipping Osprey clutch and erratic power delivery to the Osprey’s rotors.
The Marine Corps and Navy have reported similar clutch slips, and each service has worked to resolve the problem in their aircraft, although clutch failure was cited in the 2022 US Marine Corps Osprey crash. It killed five people.
According to the investigation into that accident, “dual hard clutch engagement” led to engine failure.
Separately, a US Marine Corps Osprey with 23 Marines Crashed in the North Australian Islands In August, it killed three sailors and seriously injured at least five others on board during an international exercise.
Cobb reported from Washington, DC