Rescuers are scanning waters off southern Japan for 10 people on board a Japanese military helicopter that apparently crashed into the sea on Thursday, Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said.
“I will continue to do my best to collect information on the damage and search for human lives,” said Hamada, who looked visibly overcome with emotion when he spoke to reporters Friday.
Gen. Yasunori Morishita, chief of staff of Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF), said searchers had found what appeared to be parts of the the UH-60JA helicopter in the sea and are continuing to scan the ocean for survivors.
If no survivors are found, the crash would be Japan’s deadliest military aviation accident since 1995, according to a database maintained by the Aviation Safety Network.
The missing troops include two pilots, two mechanics and six passengers, among them Lt. Gen. Yuichi Sakamoto, a senior GSDF commander, Morishita said.
Sakamoto, commander of the 8th Division, had been newly appointed to his role on March 30, Japan’s public broadcaster NHK reported Friday.
The helicopter – which was surveying the local area – went missing Thursday at 3:56 p.m. local time after disappearing from radar screens off the coast of Miyako Island in the southern Japanese prefecture of Okinawa, according to the Defense Ministry.
Miyako Island – adjacent to the East China Sea – is about 400 kilometers (250 miles) east of Taiwan and is home to a JGSDF missile unit.
A spokesperson from the Japan Coast Guard told CNN that around 6:50 p.m. local time on Thursday, a patrol boat retrieved a lifeboat with the words “Ground Self-Defense Force” written on it from the sea.
The spokesperson added that early Friday morning, a window frame, a door with “Ground Self-Defense Force” written on it and a rotor blade were recovered in waters north of Irabu Island, which is connected to Miyako Island by a bridge.
According to manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the UH-60JA is a multipurpose helicopter based on the US military’s Black Hawk helicopters.
The last time at least 10 people were lost in a Japanese military aviation accident was on February 21, 1995, when a Maritime Self-Defense Force flying boat crashed on Okinawa, according to the Aviation Safety Network database.
On April 26, 1983, 11 people were killed when a flying boat crashed during practice for an air show in Iwakuni, and 14 died a week earlier when two Air Self-Defense Force transports flying in formation crashed into an island in Ise Bay, according to the database.