Thursday, November 30, 2023

Japan asks US military to ground Osprey aircraft after fatal crash

Japan asks US military to ground Osprey aircraft after fatal crash

This file photo taken on August 23, 2022 shows a US military Osprey aircraft at the US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the Okinawa prefecture. — AFP pic

Thursday, 30 Nov 2023 6:07 PM MYT

TOKYO, Nov 30 — Japan said it has asked the US to suspend all non-emergency V-22 Osprey flights over its territory after one fell into the sea yesterday in western Japan, marking the country’s first fatal US military plane crash in five years.

The US Air Force said the cause of the mishap during a routine training mission, which killed at least one person, is currently unknown. Search and rescue operations to find the remaining seven crew are still ongoing.

“The occurrence of such an accident causes great anxiety to the people of the region... and we are requesting the US side to conduct flights of Ospreys deployed in Japan after these flights are confirmed to be safe,” Minoru Kihara said in parliament on Thursday.

The Japan Self-Defence Forces (SDF), which also operates Ospreys, will suspend flights of the transport aircraft until the circumstances of the incident are clarified, another defence ministry official said.

A spokesperson for US military forces in Japan did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“Our focus is on the ongoing search and rescue operations, and we’re praying for a safe return,” Rahm Emanuel, the US ambassador to Japan, said in a post on X.

Witnesses said the aircraft’s left engine appeared to be on fire as it approached an airport for an emergency landing in clear weather and light winds, media reported.

Developed by Boeing and Bell Helicopter, the hybrid V-22, which can land and take off like a helicopter and fly like a fixed-wing aircraft, is operated by the US Air Force, Marines and Navy, and the SDF.

The deployment of the aircraft in Japan has been controversial, with critics of the US military presence in the southwest islands saying it is prone to accidents. The US and Japan say it is safe.

Japan hosts the biggest overseas concentration of US military power, with the country home to the only forward-deployed US carrier strike group, its Asian airlift hub, fighter squadrons and a US Marine Corps expeditionary force.

In August, a US Osprey crashed off the coast of northern Australia while transporting troops during a routine military exercise, killing three US Marines.

Another crash-landed in the ocean off the southern island of Okinawa in December 2016, the first such incident in Japan, prompting a temporary US military grounding of the aircraft.

The last fatal US military aircraft crash in Japan was 2018, when a mid-air collision during a training exercise killed six people, according to the defence ministry. — Reuters

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