New Head of Japan GSDF’s 8th Division Vows to Investigate Cause of Helicopter Crash

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Shinichi Aoki, head of the Ground Self-Defense Force’s 8th Division, speaks at a press conference in Kita Ward, Kumamoto City, on Saturday.

The new head of the Ground Self-Defense Force’s 8th Division on Saturday said it is vital to investigate the cause of a recent GSDF helicopter accident and explain it to the public.

Lt. Gen. Shinichi Aoki, who was appointed to replace Lt. Gen. Yuichi Sakamoto, who perished in the crash, was speaking at a press conference at the GSDF’s North Kumamoto Camp in Kumamoto City.

“I sincerely apologize for causing worry and anxiety among local residents,” Aoki said in connection with the accident in which a helicopter with 10 personnel on board went missing off Miyako Island in Okinawa Prefecture.

Talking about Sakamoto, Aoki said: “He was an honest, earnest man and a wonderful GSDF officer. We’ve lost a valuable human resource. I’ll carry on his legacy.”

The stricken helicopter was located on the seabed at a depth of 106 meters, and six bodies were found at the scene. Five bodies were removed from inside the helicopter and the body of one person — believed to be a member of the team — was left at the scene. “We’d like to find the remaining four people as soon as possible and recover the aircraft,” Aoki said.

Aoki, who assumed his new post on Friday, said the 8th Division, which oversees the southern Kyushu region and comprises about 5,000 personnel, “will work to quickly get the situation under control and rebuild our readiness to respond immediately to defense, security and disaster situations.”

At a ceremony held prior to the press conference, Aoki called on the approximately 320 members of his division to “work together to build an 8th Division that is trusted by the people of Japan.”

Coast guard patrol vessel ends full-time search

The 11th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters in Naha announced Saturday that it had ended its full-time patrol vessel search on Friday but will continue searching in parallel with regular patrols.

According to the headquarters, the search that was being carried out by the Heiyo — a Japan Coast Guard hydrographic survey vessel — has also ended. The SDF is continuing with its search.

The headquarters said the decision to end the search “was comprehensively determined after coordinating with the relevant agencies.”