GSDF Chopper Carrying 10 Goes Missing in Okinawa

Ground Self-Defense Force
A UH-60 helicopter

Tokyo, April 7 (Jiji Press)—A Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force helicopter carrying 10 people, including a lieutenant general, went missing near Miyako Island in the southernmost prefecture of Okinawa around 4 p.m. Thursday (7 a.m. GMT).

After apparent parts of the UH-60 multipurpose helicopter were found, the GSDF determined that it was an aircraft accident. Along with the Japan Coast Guard and other authorities, it is searching waters around the site.

At a press conference on Thursday night, GSDF Chief of Staff Gen. Yasunori Morishita apologized to the people of the country for causing anxiety.

Morishita said that among the 10 people on board was Lt. Gen. Yuichi Sakamoto, head of the GSDF’s Eighth Division, based in the southwestern prefecture of Kumamoto.

“We will make every effort to discover (the helicopter and the crew) as soon as possible,” Morishita said.

“The Defense Ministry is working to confirm the situation. We’ll put top priority on saving lives,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters earlier in the day.

The helicopter, which belongs to the eighth squadron at the GSDF’s Vice-Camp Takayubaru in the town of Mashiki, Kumamoto, left the Air Self-Defense Force’s Miyakojima Sub Base on the Okinawa island around 3:45 p.m., according to the GSDF.

The chopper was scheduled to return to the base shortly past 5 p.m. after flying around the island to check the topography, but disappeared from the ASDF’s radar about 10 minutes after takeoff around Ikema Island, about 20 kilometers north of the base.

It was carrying two pilots, two maintenance crew members and six others, including Sakamoto. The Self-Defense Forces dispatched aircraft and vessels to search for the chopper.

According to Japan Coast Guard officials and other sources, several objects apparently from the helicopter, such as oil and a rotor, were found near where it went missing. An inflatable life raft with GSDF written on it was also recovered, but it was in a folded state.

Around Miyako Island on Thursday afternoon, wind speeds were approximately 6-6.5 meters per second, and the visibility was over 10 kilometers, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency. There were no cumulonimbus clouds that would have disturbed the flight.