A US military aircraft with six personnel on board crashed into the sea near Japan’s Yakushima island, killing one of them, said officials.
The crash involved an Osprey aircraft, which can function as a helicopter or a turboprop craft, and happened at about 2.47pm local time on Wednesday, according to a spokesperson for the coastguard.
Officials earlier said there were eight people on board, but later revised this number down to six. Aircraft and patrol boats deployed by Japan’s coastguard to the crash site found grey debris believed to be from the aircraft about 1km off Yakushima, an island south of Kagoshima.
Coastguard spokesperson Kazuo Ogawa said one of those on board was rushed to a nearby hospital but was later pronounced dead. The status of the five others is not yet known.
The Osprey had attempted an emergency sea landing, said Japanese vice-defence minister Hiroyuki Miyazawa.
“The government will confirm information about the damage and place the highest priority on saving lives,” said Japan’s chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, who earlier said the aircraft had disappeared from radar at 2.40pm local time.
An emergency call had been received from a fishing boat near the crash site off Yakushima, said Mr Ogawa.
Local residents said the aircraft’s left engine was on fire when it fell into the sea, reported Japanese broadcaster MBC.
Mr Ogawa said the Osprey had departed from the US Marine Corps Air Station in Yamaguchi prefecture’s Iwakuni and crashed while heading to the Kadena airbase in Okinawa.
One Japanese military base in Saga prefecture has postponed Osprey flight exercises planned for Thursday.
US and Japanese officials said the aircraft belonged to Yokota air base in western Tokyo, but American officials at Yokota are still confirming the information and did not comment.
There have been at least five fatal crashes of Marine Ospreys since 2012, causing a total of at least 19 deaths, reported the Associated Press.
Critics have said the hybrid aircraft is prone to accidents, while the US military and Japan have maintained it is safe.
Denny Tamaki, the governor of Okinawa, said on Wednesday that he will urge the US military to suspend all Osprey flights in Japan.
About half the 50,000 US troops in Japan are stationed in Okinawa.
First launched in 1989, the Osprey aircraft has a unique tilt-rotor design that allows it to perform vertical take-offs and landings like a helicopter, before turning its rotors and achieving similar cruising speeds to a traditional turboprop plane.
Bell Boeing, which manufactures the Osprey, said the aircraft is built with corrosion-resistant materials and remains the most suitable for a maritime environment.
The aircraft are used for a wide range of mission types that include air assaults, air refuelling, evacuation and recovery and transporting VIPs.
A number of crashes involving the aircraft have been reported in recent years.
In August this year, three of 20 US marines were killed on Australia’s Melville Island while taking part in a military drill with the armies of Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines and East Timor.
Last year, four US soldiers were killed in a crash in a Norwegian town during a Nato exercise unrelated to the Ukraine war. The aircraft involved was a V-22B Osprey that belonged to the US Marine Corps, Norway’s armed forces said.
In a 2017 crash, an Osprey struck a warship in an incident that killed three marines on board. New footage of the incident emerged last year.