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2 Japanese navy helicopters crash during training, 1 dead

TOKYO (AP) — Two Japanese navy helicopters carrying eight crew members crashed into the Pacific Ocean south of Tokyo during a night training flight after possibly colliding, the Ministry of Defense said Sunday. Minister of Defense of the country. A crew member who was found in the waters was later pronounced dead, while rescuers searched for seven others still missing.

The Maritime Self-Defense Force’s two SH-60K helicopters were each carrying four crew members and lost contact Saturday evening near Torishima Island, about 600 kilometers (370 miles) south of Tokyo, said to journalists Defense Minister Minoru Kihara.

The cause of the crash was not immediately known, but authorities believe the two helicopters “most likely” collided before crashing into the water, Kihara said.

He added that his ministry would suspend training flights for all SH-60s for the time being.

Naval Chief of Staff Admiral Ryo Sakai said training would be suspended until the cause of the accident was determined and preventive measures were taken.

Rescuers recovered a flight data recorder, a blade from each helicopter and fragments believed to have come from both helicopters in the same area, a sign that the two SH-60Ks were flying close to each other, Kihara said. Authorities will analyze data from the flight to try to determine what led to the crash.

Search and rescue efforts for the missing crew were intensified on Sunday, with the MSDF and the Air Self-Defense Force together deploying 12 warships and seven aircraft. Japanese Coast Guard patrol boats and aircraft also joined the operation.

U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel said in a post on social platform X that the United States had offered to help with search and rescue operations.

“We will stand in solidarity, side by side, with our friend and ally, Japan. My thoughts are with the crew members, and their families and friends during this difficult time,” he said.

The helicopters, twin-engine, multi-mission aircraft developed by Sikorsky and known as Seahawks, were modified and produced in Japan by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. They were undergoing anti-submarine training at night in the waters, Kihara said. One of them lost contact at 10:38 p.m. (1:38 p.m. GMT) and sent an automatic emergency signal a minute later. They lost contact about 270 kilometers (150 nautical miles) east of Torishima Island.

A single distress signal called an emergency locator transmitter was heard — another sign that the two helicopters were near the same location, because their signals use the same frequency and could not be differentiated, Kihara said.

One helicopter belonged to an air base in Nagasaki and the other to a base in Tokushima Prefecture.

The SH-60K aircraft is typically deployed on destroyers for anti-submarine warfare, but is also used for search and rescue and other missions. Japan has around 70 modified helicopters.

Saturday’s training involved only the Japanese navy and was not part of a multinational exercise, defense officials said. They said no foreign planes or warships had been spotted in the area.

Japan, under its Security Strategy 2022, has accelerated its military buildup and strengthened its deterrence in Japan’s southwest islands in the Pacific and the East China Sea to counter threats from China’s increasingly assertive military activities. In recent years, Japan has conducted its own extensive naval exercises as well as joint exercises with its ally the United States and other partners.

The chief of naval staff said Saturday’s training was part of routine anti-submarine warfare exercises involving MSDF warships, submarines and Seahawks.

The accident comes a year after that of a ground self-defense force. UH-60 Blackhawk crashed off the southwest Japanese island of Miyako due to an engine power problem known as a “rollback”, leaving all 10 crew members dead, shocking the nation. In 2017, a Japanese Navy SH-60J, a previous generation of Seahawk, crashed during night training off Aomori due to human error.

Saturday’s accident and possible collision also recall a July 2021 night training off the southern island of Amamioshima, where two SH-60s had a minor collision, with both sustaining blade damage but causing no injuries.

Following this collision, the MSDF implemented a set of preventive measures. Sakai said Saturday’s accident could have been avoided if all these measures had been followed correctly.

In the United States, the fatal crash of an MH-60S Seahawk during training off California in 2021 was attributed to mechanical failure due to unsuspected damage during maintenance, according to the Navy.

Japanese public broadcaster NHK said no weather warnings had been issued in the area at the time of Saturday’s accident.

News Source : apnews.com
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