Japan’s Missing Defense Forces Helicopter Appears to Have Been Found

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Maritime Self-Defense Force’s submarine rescue ship Chihaya is seen near waters off Miyako Island, Okinawa Prefecture, on Friday, where an object believed to be the missing Ground Self-Defense Force helicopter has been found.

The missing Ground Self-Defense Force helicopter, its crew and other personnel aboard appear to have been found on the seabed about 100 meters below the ocean surface north of Irabu Island, Okinawa Prefecture.

The Thursday night search by a Maritime Self-Defense Force vessel discovered multiple human figures inside what appears to be the fuselage, according to sources connected to the government.

The site is close to where the GSDF UH-60JA multipurpose helicopter disappeared from radar April 6 shortly after takeoff from Miyako Island. What is believed to be the fuselage is heavily damaged, according to the sources.

As the flight recorder and main parts of the helicopter have yet to be found, if what appears to be the fuselage is recovered, it likely will help in determining the cause of the accident.

According to the sources, sonar on the MSDF minesweeper Etajima detected the object on Thursday night. After using an underwater camera to take photographs, the MSDF confirmed the object appeared to be a fuselage. Human figures were also visible in the object.

The Self-Defense Forces plan to use saturation diving so that divers can reach the about 100-meter depths to conduct closer inspections. Divers will first need to adapt their bodies to the water pressure in equipment of the submarine rescue ship Chihaya. They will then descend to the seabed in a capsule that is capable of maintaining a high-pressure state and then conduct activities outside the capsule. After confirming the condition of the object, the SDF will look into possible retrieval methods and other matters.

So far, 22 fragments believed to be from the missing helicopter have been recovered. These include a part of an aircraft door, a fuel tank, a helmet and an unused folded emergency lifeboat.

The helicopter had taken off from Miyakojima Sub Base at 3:46 p.m. on April 6 and disappeared from radar at 3:56 p.m. in airspace about 18 kilometers northwest of Miyako Island.

The 10 personnel aboard the helicopter included Lt. Gen. Yuichi Sakamoto, 55, the leader of the GSDF’s 8th Division, which is responsible for defense and security in the southern part of Kyushu. Sakamoto had assumed the position in late March, so the helicopter was likely on an aerial reconnaissance mission to confirm geographical features of area islands.

The accident has been affecting wider SDF operations. The GSDF has grounded 40 helicopters of the same type, except if a disaster dispatch is required.