TOKYO (AP) — A crew member who was rescued from the ocean after a U.S. Osprey military plane carrying eight people crashed Wednesday off southern Japan has been pronounced dead, officials said. coast guard.
The cause of the accident and the status of the other seven people on board were not immediately known, coast guard spokesman Kazuo Ogawa said.
The Osprey carried eight crew members and is an Air Force aircraft, said a U.S. official who was not authorized to speak to the media on condition of anonymity. While the Marine Corps flies most of the Osprey aircraft based in Japan, the Air Force also deploys Ospreys there.
Earlier reports indicated the plane was carrying six or eight people.
The official could not provide further information pending notification of next of kin.
The Osprey is a hybrid aircraft that takes off and lands like a helicopter, but during flight it can spin its propellers forward and navigate much faster like an airplane.
Ospreys have had a number of accidents in the past, including in Japan, where they are deployed to U.S. and Japanese military bases. In Okinawa, where about half of the 50,000 U.S. troops in Japan are based, Gov. Denny Tamaki told reporters Wednesday that he would ask the U.S. military to suspend all Osprey flights to Japan.
Coast guard spokesman Ogawa said he received an emergency call Wednesday afternoon from a fishing boat near the accident site off Yakushima, an island south of Kagoshima, on the southern main island of Kyushu.
Coast Guard planes and patrol boats found a person identified only as a man who was later pronounced dead by a doctor at a nearby port, he said. They also found gray-colored debris believed to be from the plane and an empty inflatable life raft in an area about 1 kilometer (0.6 mile) off the eastern coast of Yakushima, Ogawa said .
The Coast Guard said it planned to continue its search through the night.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said the Osprey disappeared from radar minutes before the coast guard received the emergency call. The plane requested an emergency landing at Yakushima airport about five minutes before being lost from radar, public broadcaster NHK and other media reported.
NHK cited a Yakushima resident as saying he saw the plane overturned, a fire coming from one of its engines, and then an explosion before it fell into the sea.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he planned to seek further explanations from the U.S. military, but declined to say whether he would seek a temporary suspension of Osprey operations in Japan.
Ogawa said the plane took off from the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station in Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture, and crashed while en route to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa. .
Japanese Deputy Defense Minister Hiroyuki Miyazawa said he attempted an emergency landing at sea and cited the U.S. military as saying its pilot “did everything possible until the last minute” .
U.S. and Japanese officials said the plane belonged to Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo. U.S. Air Force officials at Yokota said they were still confirming the reports and had no immediate comment.
In December 2016, a United States Marine Corps Osprey crashed off the coast of Okinawainjuring two of the five crew members and sparking complaints among local residents about the U.S. bases on Okinawa and the Osprey’s safety record.
A United States Marine Corps Osprey with 23 Marines on board crashed on an island in northern Australia in August, killing at least three people and seriously injuring at least five during a multinational training exercise.
It was the fifth fatal Marine Osprey accident since 2012, bringing the total death toll in that time to at least 19.
Associated Press writer Tara Copp in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.