Two copters crash during training


TWO Japanese navy helicopters carrying eight crew members crashed in the Pacific Ocean south of Tokyo during a nighttime training flight after possibly colliding with each other, the country’s defence minister said.

One crew member who had been recovered from the waters was later pronounced dead, while rescuers searched for seven others who were still missing.

The two SH-60K copters from the Maritime Self-Defence Force were carrying four crew each and lost contact late Saturday near Torishima island about 600km south of Tokyo, Defence Minister Minoru Kihara told reporters.

The cause of the crash was not immediately known, but officials believe the two helicopters “highly likely” collided with each other before crashing into the water, Kihara said, adding that his ministry will suspend training flights for all SH-60s for now.

The navy chief of staff, Admiral Ryo Sakai, said the trainings will be suspended until the accident’s cause is determined and preventive measures are adopted.

Rescuers have recovered a flight data recorder, a blade from each helicopter, and fragments believed to be from both copters in the same area, signs that the two SH-60Ks were flying close to each other, Kihara said.

Officials will analyse the flight data to try to determine what led to the crash.

Search and rescue efforts for the missing crew were expanded yesterday, with the MSDF and Air Self-Defence Force together deploying 12 warships and seven aircraft. Japan Coast Guard patrol boats and aircraft also joined the operation.

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

“We will stand together, side by side, with our friend and ally, Japan. My thoughts are with the crew members, and their families and friends during this challenging 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 on nighttime anti-submarine training in the waters, Kihara said.

One lost contact at 10.38pm local time and sent an automatic emergency signal a minute later. They lost contact about 270km east of Torishima island.

Only one distress signal called an emergency locator transmitter was heard – another sign the two helicopters were near the same place, 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 usually deployed on destroyers for anti-submarine warfare, but is also used for search and rescue and other missions.

Japan has about 70 of the modified helicopters.

Saturday’s training only involved the Japanese navy and was not part of a multinational exercise, defence officials said.

They said no foreign aircraft or warships were spotted in the area. — AP

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