One dead and seven missing after two Japanese navy helicopters crash into the ocean

21 April 2024, 07:09 | Updated: 21 April 2024, 14:54

Two Japanese navy helicopters have crashed into the Pacific Ocean during a night-time training flight after a possible mid-air collision, killing at least one of the eight crew members on board.

One body has been recovered from the water and was later pronounced dead, while a search operation is under way for the seven others still missing.

The two SH-60K patrol aircraft, each carrying four crew members, lost contact near Torishima island, about 370 miles (600km) south of Tokyo, late on Saturday.

The cause of the crash is being investigated, but officials believe it is "highly likely" the two helicopters collided with each other before crashing into the water.

Defence minister Minoru Kihara said the flight recorders and debris from both aircraft had been found in the same area, indicating they had been flying close to each other.

He also said only one distress call was heard - another sign that the two helicopters were close to each other, because their signals use the same frequency and could not be differentiated.

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

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Navy chief of staff Admiral Ryo Sakai said training will be suspended until the cause of the accident is known.

Search and rescue efforts for the missing crew were expanded on Sunday, with the military deploying 12 warships and seven aircraft.

Coastguard patrol boats and aircraft also joined the operation.

One helicopter was based in Nagasaki, and the other in Tokushima.

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 aircraft.

Japan, under its 2022 security strategy, has been bolstering its armed forces in the southwestern Japanese islands in the Pacific and East China Sea to counter the threat posed by China.

The navy chief of staff said Saturday's training was part of routine anti-submarine warfare drills that also involved warships and submarines.

The crash comes a year after a defence force Blackhawk helicopter crashed off the southwestern Japanese island of Miyako due to engine failure, killing all 10 crew members.