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  • GSDF helicopter

Determine Cause of Accident as Soon as Possible

A Ground Self-Defense Force helicopter carrying 10 personnel has gone missing. Evidence suggests the aircraft crashed into the sea. The Self-Defense Forces and the Japan Coast Guard should do their best to find the personnel.

A GSDF UH-60JA multipurpose helicopter disappeared from radar on Thursday afternoon when it was flying around Miyako Island in Okinawa Prefecture. The Defense Ministry has concluded that the helicopter was involved in an accident as a door and several parts of fuselage believed to be from the aircraft have been discovered in the sea.

Among the 10 personnel aboard the helicopter was Yuichi Sakamoto, head of the GSDF’s 8th Division, which is responsible for defense and security in the southern Kyushu region. He had just assumed his post at the end of March.

The helicopter took off from a base on Miyako Island. The flight was being conducted to check the topography of islands in the region from the air, among other tasks, but it disappeared from radar 10 minutes after takeoff. At the time of the flight, the weather around the island was reportedly clear with good visibility.

Aircraft and patrol ships dispatched by the SDF and the JCG have been conducting search operations. “Saving lives is the priority,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said. It is hoped that the search area will be expanded to help find the personnel as soon as possible.

There have been many accidents involving SDF aircraft. In 2016, an Air Self-Defense Force jet crashed into a mountain, killing six personnel. Four personnel died when a GSDF liaison and reconnaissance aircraft crashed in 2017, and in January 2022, an ASDF F-15 fighter jet crash left two personnel dead.

The UH-60JA helicopter model that was involved in the latest accident is widely used for troop transportation and disaster relief. Equipped with two engines, the aircraft can reportedly continue to fly even if one of the engines fails.

Why did the helicopter suddenly disappear in the middle of the day when the weather was clear? Had the pilots received sufficient flight training and had the aircraft been properly maintained? The helicopter’s flight recorder, which logs speed, altitude and other data, must be recovered and analyzed as soon as possible to determine the cause of the accident.

In recent years, Chinese naval vessels and bombers have often been spotted in the vicinity of Miyako Island. In response, the ministry has deployed GSDF units to islands including Yonaguni and Miyako to strengthen the defense of the Nansei island chain. A garrison was just established on Ishigaki Island in March.

SDF personnel who navigate aircraft and vessels around the islands likely face many tense situations.

To strengthen the nation’s defense capabilities, SDF personnel must be able to carry out missions in a safe environment. It is concerning that an accident with an as-yet unidentified cause occurred in a highly significant area for the nation’s security.

First of all, it is important to identify the cause of the accident and implement thorough measures to prevent a recurrence. It is hoped that the SDF will inspect equipment and pay close attention to safety management.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 8, 2023)