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US military grounds Osprey fleet after crash off coast of Japan kills 8 US airmen

The US military is grounding its entire fleet of V-22 Ospreys, a week after an Air Force CV-22 crashed off the coast of Yakushima Island, Japan, resulting in the deaths of all eight airmen aboard the aircraft.

Air Force Special Operations Command said in a release Wednesday evening that Lt. Gen. Tony Bauernfeind, commander of AFSOC, directed an “operational standdown” of the Air Force’s CV-22 fleet “to mitigate risk while the investigation continues” into last week’s crash. Naval Air Systems Command also said Wednesday it was grounding the Navy and Marine Corps’ V-22s out of “an abundance of caution” as the CV-22 crash is investigated.

“Preliminary investigation information indicates a potential materiel failure caused the mishap, but the underlying cause of the failure is unknown at this time,” a Navy news release said.

Immediately following the crash last week, the government of Japan’s Okinawa Prefecture requested that all Ospreys on the island chain be grounded. The Pentagon, however, said it had not received an official request to ground the Ospreys.

A Japan Coast Guard vessel and a helicopter conduct a search and rescue operation at the site where a US military aircraft V-22 Osprey crashed into the sea off Yakushima Island, Kagoshima prefecture, Japan November 30, 2023. - Kyodo/Reuters
A Japan Coast Guard vessel and a helicopter conduct a search and rescue operation at the site where a US military aircraft V-22 Osprey crashed into the sea off Yakushima Island, Kagoshima prefecture, Japan November 30, 2023. - Kyodo/Reuters

“I’m not tracking an official request received here at the department,” deputy Pentagon press secretary Sabrina Singh said last week. “I’ve seen some of the comments that you just referenced. Right now, the Ospreys are still operating in Japan.”

Singh added that there is a “true commitment to safety” in the Pentagon “when it comes to any airmen operating any aircraft.”

“If the investigation concludes that there need to be additional steps taken, we’ll … certainly do that, but at this time, the investigation is underway on what happened,” she said.

The Osprey was conducting a “routine training mission” at the time of the crash, AFSOC said, which is still under investigation. The aircraft has had a history of operational and mechanical issues, though, and has been involved in several fatal incidents over the last 30 years. Just months ago, in August, three US Marines were killed in a MV-22 Osprey during a military exercise in Australia.

In March 2022, four US service members were killed in a MV-22 crash during a NATO training exercise. A few months later, five Marines died in a training mission crash in California.

Variants of the V-22 Osprey are used by several services — the MV-22 used by the Marines, CV-22 used by the Air Force, and CMV-22 used by the Navy – as well as Japan’s Ground Self Defense Force, which uses the Japan MV-22.

“With its rotors in vertical position, it can take off, land and hover like a helicopter. Once airborne, it can convert to a turboprop airplane capable of high-speed, high-altitude flight,” Boeing’s V-22 information page says. “This combination results in global reach capabilities that allow the V-22 to fill an operational niche unlike any other aircraft.”

Six of the eight airmen onboard have been recovered from last week’s crash, three of which have been identified. The first airman found and identified was Staff Sgt. Jake Galliher, 24. On Tuesday evening, Air Force Special Operations Command identified two more airmen who had been recovered as Maj. Luke Unrath, 34, and Tech Sgt. Zachary Lavoy, 33.

Following personnel recovery operations, AFSOC said Wednesday, the force “will turn its efforts toward salvaging the remaining aircraft debris.”

Bauernfeind previously said in a statement that the “honorable service of these eight airmen to this great nation will never be forgotten.”

“In times like these, where service to our nation is not just a personal commitment but also a legacy woven into the fabric of our families, the depth of sorrow is immeasurable,” he said.

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