Officials in Japan asked the U.S. military to temporarily ground its Osprey aircraft in the region while the search for crash victims is ongoing.
A U.S. Air Force Osprey crashed off Japan’s tiny island of Yakushima on Tuesday with eight on board. At least one person is confirmed dead.
Japan’s Coast Guard remained in charge of the search and rescue operation Thursday, and had deployed side-scan sonar to scour the seabed for evidence.
U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command said in a statement that the Osprey had been performing a routine training mission when it crashed, adding that both the “cause of the mishap” and the “crew’s condition are unknown at this time.”
Thirty Ospreys, aircraft that can take off vertically like a helicopter before flying like a plane, are in service in Japan, where roughly 50,000 U.S. personnel are stationed.
Tuesday’s crash took place very close to the coastline, reportedly fueling fears of risks to Japanese civilians.
Japan’s Minister of Defense said Thursday that Tokyo had asked the U.S. to stop flying the Ospreys over its territory until they could be confirmed safe.
The U.S. military believes they are safe, and in fact, Japan’s military, the Self-Defense Forces, has 11 of its own Ospreys already and several more on order.
Yet there have been a number of fatal Osprey crashes in recent years, including an incident during training exercises on an Australian island that killed three U.S. Marines and hospitalized eight others. In June 2022 five Marines were killed in an Osprey crash in the California desert.
In a statement, U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel expressed “sincere gratitude to the Japanese Coast Guard, Japanese Self-Defense Forces, and local community and fishermen who are assisting in the search for the crew.”
“The strength of an alliance isn’t measured when times are good, but how we support each other in the face of adversity,” the Ambassador added.