“High Probability” 2 MSDF Patrol Helicopters Collided near Torishima Island; 1 Dead, 7 Others Onboard Missing (Update 2)

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Defense Minister Minoru Kihara speaks at a press conference with MSDF Chief of Staff Adm. Ryo Sakai, right, at the Defense Ministry in Tokyo early Sunday, in response to the disappearance of two MSDF helicopters.

Two Maritime Self-Defense Force patrol helicopters disappeared late Saturday night during a drill above the waters east of Torishima Island, part of the Izu island chain, leaving one person dead and seven others on board missing.

The two aircraft, each carrying four people, were conducting a submarine detection drill. The MSDF rescued one person, who was later pronounced dead.

The Defense Ministry believes that the two SH-60K helicopters may have crashed in mid-air. It is continuing to search for the seven missing people while analyzing the cause of the accident.

From the MSDF website
The Maritime Self-Defense Force’s SH-60K helicopter

According to the ministry and the MSDF, the two aircraft are Nos. 8416 and 8443, belonging to Omura Air Base in Nagasaki Prefecture and Komatsushima Air Base in Tokushima Prefecture, respectively.

The ministry said the two aircraft were engaged in the drill about 280 kilometers east of Torishima Island.

A vessel participating in the drill confirmed that it was unable to communicate with aircraft No. 8416 at about 10:38 p.m. on Saturday and received an emergency signal from the helicopter a minute later. The vessel also confirmed that it lost communication with aircraft No. 8443 at around 11:04 p.m.

The SDF have recovered parts of the aircraft in the sea area at the site, including two blades. Flight recorders from both helicopters were recovered near each other and are being analyzed.

The SDF have deployed 12 vessels and seven aircraft to search for the missing persons. The Japan Coast Guard has also dispatched ships and jets for the search.

“I express my sincere condolences over the death of the MSDF member,” Defense Minister Minoru Kihara said at a press conference at the ministry in Ichigaya, Tokyo, on Sunday morning. “The SDF are doing their utmost to search for the seven people.”

Kihara said, “We believe that there is a high probability that the two aircraft collided.”

Although no emergency signal from No. 8443 has been confirmed, the minister said, “It is technically possible to hear a single signal when emergency signals are sent out at the same location.”

The two aircraft had taken off from different vessels in the drill, which included a destroyer, a submarine and a supply ship among others.

In response to the accident, the MSDF will suspend training flights of its about 80 aircraft of the same type for the time being. The MSDF will conduct warning and surveillance operations and transport missions when necessary.