A U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon prepares to take off from Misawa Air Base, Japan, April 11, 2024.

A U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon prepares to take off from Misawa Air Base, Japan, April 11, 2024. (Ashley Guire/U.S. Navy)

TOKYO — The U.S. Navy is sending an aircraft to help scour the Pacific for seven Japanese aviators missing since two helicopters crashed on Saturday, Defense Minister Minoru Kihara said this week.

A P-8 Poseidon patrol and surveillance plane will join the search for two SH-60 Seahawk crews with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, he said at a press conference Tuesday. The helicopters went down during nighttime training about 370 miles south of Tokyo.

Kihara did not indicate when the Poseidon would begin its search. U.S. 7th Fleet spokeswoman Lt. Jamie Moroney acknowledged a request for comment Wednesday but was unable to provide an immediate response.

The Poseidon will join about 10 ships and five other aircraft from the Self-Defense Force and Japan Coast Guard to comb the area where contact was lost with the helicopters, Kihara said. The search area, however, is steadily expanding over time due to the tides.

“In any case, we will carry out search and rescue operations with all our efforts to safely rescue all seven mission personnel as soon as possible,” he added.

The Self-Defense Force’s oceanographic research ship JS Shonan is also joining the mission, bringing with it the capability to search underwater and identify exactly where the helicopters sank.

The helicopters, both assigned to Japan’s Fleet Air Wing 22, went missing at 10:38 p.m. Saturday during an anti-submarine warfare drill alongside a third helicopter about 170 miles east of Torishima in the Izu island chain.

Eight crewmembers were aboard the helicopters; one was found and confirmed dead Sunday.

The flight recorders have been recovered, and the defense ministry is analyzing them to determine the cause of the crash. There has been no indication of a mechanical malfunction, so far, Kihara said.

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Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.
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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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