Japan suspends its Osprey flights after fatal US military aircraft crash
Ospreys have had a number of crashes, including in Japan, where they are used at U.S. and Japanese military bases.
Japan suspended its own Osprey flights Thursday after a U.S. Air Force Osprey based in Japan crashed into the sea during a training mission, officials said. Tokyo has also asked the U.S. military to stop all Ospreys operating in Japan except for those searching for victims of the crash.
A senior Defense Ministry official, Taro Yamato, told a parliamentary hearing that Japan plans to suspend flights of Ospreys for the time being. Ministry officials said a planned training flight Thursday at the Metabaru army camp in the Saga prefecture in southern Japan was canceled as part of a plan to ground all 14 Japanese-owned Ospreys deployed at Japan's Ground Self-Defense Force bases.
Japan also asked the U.S. military to ground all Osprey flights except for the purpose of joining the ongoing search and rescue operations at the crash site until “their safety is confirmed,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokzu Matsuno told reporters. One U.S. Osprey joined the rescue operation since the crash, Japanese defense officials said.
The U.S. Osprey crashed Wednesday off Japan’s southern coast, killing at least one of the eight crew members. The cause of the crash and the status of the seven others on board were not immediately known.
The coast guard, as well as Japanese troops searched through the night, and on Thursday, the coast guard started using sonar to search underwater for the broken aircraft that might have sunk to the sea bottom.
The Osprey is a hybrid aircraft that takes off and lands like a helicopter but can rotate its propellers forward and cruise much faster like an airplane during flight.
Ospreys have had a number of crashes, including in Japan, where they are used at U.S. and Japanese military bases. In Okinawa, where about half of the 50,000 American troops are based, Gov. Denny Tamaki had said he would ask the U.S. military to suspend all Osprey flights in Japan.
Japanese coast guard spokesperson Kazuo Ogawa said the coast guard received an emergency call Wednesday afternoon from a fishing boat near the crash site off Yakushima, an island south of Kagoshima on the southern main island of Kyushu.
Coast guard aircraft and patrol boats found one male crew member, who was later pronounced dead by a doctor, Ogawa said. They also found debris believed to be from the aircraft and an empty inflatable life raft about 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) off the eastern coast of Yakushima, he said.
Matsuno said Wednesday the Osprey disappeared from radar a few minutes before the coast guard received the emergency call. The aircraft requested an emergency landing at the Yakushima airport about five minutes before it was lost from radar, NHK public television and other news outlets reported.
NHK quoted a Yakushima resident as saying he saw the aircraft turned upside down, with fire coming from one of its engines, and then an explosion before it fell to the sea.
Defense Ministry officials on Thursday refused to confirm the sequence of events or witness account, citing discussions with the U.S. side.
U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command said the CV-22B Osprey was from Yokota Air Base and assigned to the 353rd Special Operations Wing.
Ogawa said the aircraft had departed from the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi prefecture and crashed on its way to Kadena Air Base on Okinawa.
Yokota Air Base is home to U.S. Forces Japan and the Fifth Air Force. Six CV-22 Ospreys have been deployed at Yokota, including the one that crashed.
Last year, Air Force Special Operations Command ordered a temporary stand down of its Osprey fleet following back-to-back safety incidents where the Osprey clutch slipped, causing an uneven distribution of power to Osprey’s rotors.
The Marine Corps and Navy have reported similar clutch slips, and each service has worked to address the issue in their aircraft, however clutch failure was also cited in a 2022 fatal U.S. Marine Corps Osprey crash that killed five.
According to the investigation of that crash, “dual hard clutch engagement” led to engine failure.
Separately, a U.S. Marine Corps Osprey with 23 Marines aboard crashed on a northern Australian island in August, killing three Marines and critically injuring at least five others who were onboard during a multinational training exercise.