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Friday, February 16, 2024

US military aircraft suffers fatal crash in Japan

Authorities on the Island of Okinawa want the US’ V-22 Osprey fleet grounded after the incident

At least one person has been killed and several others injured after a V-22 Osprey aircraft operated by the US military crashed off Yakushima Island in southwestern Japan on Wednesday. The crash is the latest in a series of accidents involving the tilt-rotor aircraft.

The vertical-take-off plane, which was assigned to the Yokota Air Base in Tokyo, disappeared from radar while en route to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa on Wednesday afternoon, according to the Japanese Defense Ministry.

The Japanese Coast Guard said that it received a distress call moments before the Osprey crashed into the sea, several hundred kilometers north of Okinawa. One of the six people aboard the aircraft was found dead at the scene, the Coast Guard said, while a group of local fishermen told Reuters that three others were found nearby in unknown condition.

Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki told reporters that he would seek the suspension of all US Osprey flights in Japan “until the cause of the accident is identified.” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, a close partner of Washington, said that he would not push for a grounding until the crash is investigated.

In service since 2007, the V-22 Osprey can take off like a helicopter, before tilting its twin rotors forward and flying like a conventional turboprop plane. The US and Japanese militaries are the world’s only operators of the aircraft.

The crash is the second such incident in Japan involving an Osprey. A crash landing onto an Okinawa reef in 2016 enraged locals, who were already furious over two cases of rape and murder by US troops earlier that year. Of the US’ 54,000 troops in Japan, the majority are stationed on Okinawa. Locals stage annual protests against their presence, with this year’s demonstrations drawing large crowds amid Japan’s ongoing remilitarization and growing tensions between the US and China.

Aside from the two crashes in Japan, the US has lost 11 Ospreys to crashes and malfunctions since 2007. Three US Marines were killed and 20 injured when the Osprey they were traveling on crashed during a training exercise in Australia in August, while five Marines died when their Osprey crashed near Glamis, California last June. An undisclosed number of Ospreys were grounded in February over a clutch issue that was blamed for at least four incidents since 2017.