GSDF to Analyze Flight Recorder Recovered from Helicopter Wreckage

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Aircraft wreckage is lifted above water near Miyako Island, Okinawa Prefecture, at about 11:45 a.m. on Tuesday.

The Ground Self-Defense Force plans to analyze a flight recorder recovered from wreckage of the UH-60JA multi-purpose helicopter that went missing last month with 10 people aboard near Miyako Island in Okinawa Prefecture.

The wreckage was lifted from the seabed on Tuesday about 6 kilometers north of Irabu Island at a depth of about 106 meters.

Two private salvage vessels launched a recovery operation on Saturday.

An unmanned remotely operated vehicle was used to position the wreckage before it was lifted from the seabed at around 11:45 a.m.

According to the GSDF, the flight recorder was found in place behind the fuselage and a visual inspection did not reveal any major damage to the device.

The analysis of the flight recorder may take several months, according to Defense Ministry officials.

The wreckage included the cockpit, fuselage, tail and fuel tank, all of which were heavily damaged.

The GSDF will transport the wreckage to the helicopter’s home base, Vice Camp Takayubaru in Mashiki, Kumamoto Prefecture, for a detailed examination to understand the circumstances of the aircraft at the time of the accident. A detailed analysis of the flight recorder will also be conducted to help determine the cause of the accident.

Recovery efforts are ongoing for other parts of the helicopter still on the seabed.

The helicopter took off from Miyakojima Sub Base at 3:46 p.m. on April 6 carrying 10 personnel. It disappeared from radar 10 minutes later in airspace about 18 kilometers northwest of Miyako Island.

Six bodies have been recovered so far and the identities of five have been confirmed.

Since the accident, the GSDF has suspended flights of the 40 UH-60JA helicopters in its fleet, excluding emergencies such as disaster relief operations.

‘Major step in investigation’

The salvage vessels Shin Sei Maru and Koyo Maru began preparations to lift the wreckage from the seabed on Tuesday morning.

Helmeted workers and Self-Defense Force personnel in camouflage uniforms were observed staring into the water as a crane on Koyo Maru began raising its cables.

The helicopter wreckage is believed to have been on part of the seafloor where the water depth suddenly drops, so careful operations were required to recover it from a depth of 106 meters.

The salvage vessels began work in the area on Saturday, using the Shin Sei Maru’s remotely operated vehicle to check the seabed conditions and prepare the wreckage to be lifted off the seabed, but high waves delayed the recovery.

The wreckage was eventually lifted above water by the Koyo Maru at about 11:45 a.m. on Tuesday.

Once it had been secured to the deck and covered with blue sheets, the Koyo Maru departed shortly after 1:30 p.m. for Hirara Port on Miyako Island, where SDF personnel checked the wreckage.

According to the GSDF, the recovered flight recorder is designed to withstand depths deeper than those at the wreckage site for a month. The device has been airlifted to a GSDF facility in the Kanto region for further examination.

The helicopter was found about 4 kilometers from the point where it disappeared from radar. Data from the flight recorder is expected to help determine the aircraft’s movements up to the point of impact with the sea.

“The fact that we were able to recover the aircraft and flight recorder under difficult conditions, including bad weather and strong currents, is a major step in the accident investigation,” a senior Defense Ministry official said. “We’ll do our best to recover the four remaining missing personnel.”