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“High probability” 2 MSDF patrol helicopters collided near Torishima Island; 1 dead, 7 others missing on board (update 2)

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Defense Minister Minoru Kihara speaks at a press conference early Sunday with MSDF Chief of Staff Admiral Ryo Sakai, right, at the Ministry of Defense in Tokyo, following the disappearance of two MSDF helicopters.

Two Maritime Self-Defense Force patrol helicopters disappeared late Saturday evening during an exercise over waters east of Torishima island, part of the Izu island chain, killing one person and leaving seven others on board missing.

The two aircraft, each with four people on board, were conducting a submarine detection exercise. The MSDF rescued one person, who was later pronounced dead.

The Defense Department believes the two SH-60K helicopters may have crashed in mid-air. The search continues for the seven missing persons while the cause of the accident is analyzed.

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From the MSDF website
The SH-60K helicopter of the Maritime Self-Defense Force

According to the ministry and the MSDF, the two aircraft are Nos. 8416 and 8443, belonging to Omura Air Base in Nagasaki Prefecture and Komatsushima Air Base in Tokushima Prefecture, respectively.

The ministry said the two planes were involved in the exercise, about 280 kilometers east of Torishima island.

A ship participating in the exercise confirmed at about 10:38 PM on Saturday that it could not communicate with aircraft No. 8416 and received a distress signal from the helicopter a minute later. The ship also confirmed that it had lost communication with aircraft No. 8443 around 11:04 p.m

The SDF recovered parts of the aircraft in the sea area at the site, including two rotor blades. Flight recorders from both helicopters were recovered close to each other and are being analyzed.

The SDF has deployed twelve ships and seven aircraft to search for the missing persons. Japan’s coast guard has also dispatched ships and fighter jets to the search.

“I express my sincere condolences on the death of the MSDF member,” Defense Minister Minoru Kihara said at a press conference at the ministry in Ichigaya, Tokyo, on Sunday morning. “The SDF is doing their utmost to search for the seven people.”

Kihara said: “We believe there is a good chance that the two planes collided.”

While no distress signal from No. 8443 has been confirmed, the minister said: “It is technically possible to hear a single signal when distress signals are broadcast at the same location.”

The two aircraft had taken off from different ships during the exercise, including a destroyer, a submarine and a supply ship.

In response to the accident, the MSDF will temporarily suspend the training flights of its approximately 80 aircraft of the same type. The MSDF will conduct warning and surveillance operations and transport missions as necessary.



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