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US military aircraft crashes into ocean off Japan’s coast

 Published: 15:35, 29 November 2023

US military aircraft crashes into ocean off Japan’s coast

A U.S. military Osprey aircraft crashed into the North Pacific ocean Wednesday near the small southern Japanese island of Yakushima with eight people on board, Japan's coast guard said.

No immediate comment has been received from the U.S. military in Japa, but Japanese coast guard spokesperson Kazuo Ogawa said that it had received an emergency call from a fishing boat reporting the crash.

Ogawa said it was unclear what happened to the aircraft or the eight people on board, but coast guard personnel were responding. Japan's national broadcaster NHK said three of the crew members had been recovered, but it provided no information on their condition.

NHK aired video from a helicopter showing a Japanese Coast Guard vessel at the site, with one bright orange inflatable life raft seen on the water, but nobody in it. CBS News' Japanese partner network TBS said local volunteer rescuers had recovered at least one crewmember alive but unconscious.

NHK said an eyewitness reported seeing the aircraft's left engine on fire before it went down about 600 miles southwest of Tokyo, off the east coast of Yakushima.

Japan's Kyodo News cited coast guard officials as saying the emergency call came in around 2:45 p.m. local time (12:45 a.m. Eastern), and it said the Japanese Defense Ministry reported the Osprey dropping off radar screens about five minutes before that.

An Osprey can take off and land vertically like a helicopter but then change the angle of its twin rotors to fly as a turbo prop plane once airborne.

The Japanese government approved last year a new $8.6 billion, five-year host-nation support budget to cover the cost of hosting American troops in the country, reflecting a growing emphasis on integration between the two countries' forces and a focus on joint response and deterrence amid rising threats from China, North Korea and Russia.

The Osprey involved in the crash was assigned to Yokota Air Force Base outside Tokyo, NHK reported, but it said the aircraft had departed Wednesday from the smaller U.S. air station Iwakuni to fly to Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, which is in the same island chain as the tiny island of Yakushima. The small island sits just south of Kagushima prefecture, on Japan's main southern island of Kyushu.

The U.S. military's Kadena Air Base is the most important and largest American base in the region.

There have been a spate of fatal U.S. Osprey crashes in recent years, most recently an aircraft that went down during a multinational training exercise on an Australian island in August, killing three U.S. Marines and leaving eight others hospitalized. All five U.S. Marines on board another Osprey died the previous summer when the aircraft crashed in the California desert.