TOKYO (AP) — A crew member pulled from the ocean after a U.S. military Osprey plane carrying six people crashed Wednesday off southern Japan has died, Coast Guard officials said.
Coast Guard spokesman Kazuo Ogawa said the cause of the accident and the condition of the five others on board were not immediately known. He added that initial reports indicated that the plane was carrying eight people, but the US military later revised the number to six.
He added that the Coast Guard received an emergency call from a fishing boat near the crash site off Yakushima, an island south of Kagoshima on the southern main island of Kyushu.
Coast Guard planes and patrol boats found a person who was later pronounced dead at a nearby hospital, as well as gray debris believed to be from the plane, Ogawa said. They were found about 1 km (0.6 mi) off the east coast of Yakushima. An empty inflatable life raft was also found in the area.
“The government will confirm information about the damage and will give the highest priority to saving lives,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters.
The Osprey is a hybrid aircraft that takes off and lands like a helicopter, but in flight it can rotate its propellers forward and fly more quickly like an airplane. Versions of the aircraft are operated by the US Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force.
Ogawa said the plane took off from US Marine Corps Air Base Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture and crashed on its way to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa.
Japanese Deputy Defense Minister Hiroyuki Miyazawa said that the ship Osprey attempted to make an emergency landing at sea.
Kyodo News Agency, citing officials in Kagoshima Prefecture, said that witnesses reported seeing a fire emerging from the left engine of the Osprey.
She said that the Japanese military base in Saga in southern Japan decided to postpone the Osprey flight exercises scheduled for Thursday.
American and Japanese officials said the plane belonged to Yokota Air Base, west of Tokyo. US Air Force officials in Yokota said they were still confirming the information and had no immediate comment.
The Ospreys have been involved in a number of accidents in the past, including in Japan, where they are deployed to US and Japanese military bases. In Okinawa, where about half of the 50,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Japan, Gov. Denny Tamaki told reporters on Wednesday that he would ask the U.S. military to suspend all Osprey flights to Japan.
In December 2016, a US Marine Corps Osprey crashed off the coast of Okinawa, injuring two of the five crew members and sparking complaints among locals about US bases and the Osprey’s safety record.
A US Marine Corps Osprey with 23 Marines on board crashed on an island in northern Australia in August, killing at least three people and seriously wounding at least five others during a multinational exercise.
This was the fifth fatal accident involving a Marine Osprey aircraft since 2012, bringing the death toll at that time to at least 19 people.
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