A MH-60S Seahawk helicopter flies toward U.S. warships training alongside a Japanese helicopter destroyer in the Philippine Sea, Nov. 6, 2023.

A MH-60S Seahawk helicopter flies toward U.S. warships training alongside a Japanese helicopter destroyer in the Philippine Sea, Nov. 6, 2023. (Alex Wilson/Stars and Stripes)

A panel fell off a U.S. Navy helicopter last week as it was flying over waters southwest of Tokyo, a Navy spokesman said, prompting fresh concerns about U.S. military aircraft operating in the country.

The MH-60S Seahawk from Helicopter Sea Squadron 12 was conducting extended training when the part fell off, Naval Air Facility Atsugi spokesman Gregory Mitchell said by phone Monday.

The Navy realized the panel — 2 feet long, 1 foot wide and weighing about 15 pounds — was missing sometime after the Seahawk returned to NAF Atsugi on Thursday, he said. The aircraft had been flying south-southwest over Sagami Bay, about 25 miles southwest of Tokyo.

The incident is under investigation, Mitchell said.

The South Kanto Defense Bureau, an arm of Japan’s Ministry of Defense, notified Kanagawa prefecture about the missing panel on Friday, the prefecture said in a news release that day.

Prefectural officials asked the bureau to “gather information on the damage and investigate the cause immediately.”

The incident comes just over a week after an Air Force CV-22 Osprey went down off southwestern Japan, killing all eight crew members aboard. The crash led the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps to ground hundreds of Ospreys on Dec. 6 after a preliminary investigation pointed toward a materiel failure and not human error.

Ayase, a city adjacent to NAF Atsugi, sent letters to Japanese Defense Minister Minoru Kihara and the base’s commander, Capt. Nicolas Leclerc, to ensure air safety protocols are in place, the city said Friday in a news release.

“While we have always requested the aircraft safety measures to be thoroughly implemented and citizens are increasingly concerned about aircraft safety after the Osprey crash occurred off Yakushima on November 29, the occurrence of this incident has further heightened citizens’ anxieties, and we take it very seriously,” the city wrote on its website.

The city echoed the prefecture’s requests about a thorough investigation and asked that the findings be made public.

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Alex Wilson covers the U.S. Navy and other services from Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. Originally from Knoxville, Tenn., he holds a journalism degree from the University of North Florida. He previously covered crime and the military in Key West, Fla., and business in Jacksonville, Fla.
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Mari Higa is an Okinawa-based reporter/translator who joined Stars and Stripes in 2021. She previously worked as a research consultant and translator. She studied sociology at the University of Birmingham and Hitotsubashi University Graduate School of Social Sciences.

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