Five Marines are declared dead in crash off coast of Japan, search ends
By JAMES BOLINGER, HANA KUSUMOTO AND COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 11, 2018
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan — The Marine Corps has ended an extensive search for five Marines missing after their KC-130J Hercules collided with an F/A-18 Hornet last week off Japan’s southern coast.
“After an update from the Joint Personnel Recovery Center, and a review of all available information, I have made the determination to end the search and rescue operations for the crew of our [Hercules] … and to declare that these Marine warriors are deceased,” III Expeditionary Force commander Lt. Gen. Eric Smith said in a statement posted Tuesday afternoon to the organization’s official Facebook page.
“Every possible effort was made to recover our crew and I hope the families of these selfless Americans will find comfort in the incredible efforts made by US, Japanese, and Australian forces during the search,” he added.
Seven Marines were involved in the training accident, which occurred just before 2 a.m. Thursday about 200 miles south of Muroto Cape on Shikoku Island, U.S. and Japanese officials said.
Although the crews were conducting regularly scheduled training, Marine investigators have not confirmed that aerial refueling was underway during the incident, the statement said.
The Hercules’ flight data and cockpit voice recorders have not been found, making it “premature to speculate about wreckage recovery,” the statement added.
Two Marines aboard the Hornet were recovered the day of the accident. The first has been released from a hospital, while the second — Capt. Jahmar Resilard, 28 — was pronounced dead after being found by a Japan Maritime Self-Defense Forces ship.
The statement did not identify the five Marines, but it said their next-of-kin had been notified. Their identities were expected to be released later Tuesday by the Defense Department.
However, family members of four of the fallen Marines identified their loved ones to Stars and Stripes.
They are: Maj. Kevin Herrmann, 38, of Fredericksburg, Va.; Staff Sgt. Maximo Flores, 27, of Litchfield Park, Ariz.; Cpl. Carter Ross, 21, from Hendersonville, Tenn., and Cpl. Daniel Baker, 21, of Tremont, Ill.
“All of us in the Sumo family are extremely saddened following the announcement of the conclusion of search and rescue operations,” Lt. Col. Mitchell Maury, commander of Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152, said in the statement. “We know this difficult decision was made after all resources were exhausted in the vigorous search for our Marines. Our thoughts are heavy, and our prayers are with all family and friends of all five aircrew.”
Smith also expressed his condolences to the lost Marines’ families.
“Every member of the III MEF family mourns this loss and stands alongside the families of the fallen in this terrible moment,” he said in the statement. “We remain, Semper Fidelis.”
Both the Japan Self-Defense Forces and Japan Coast Guard announced Tuesday that they’d halted their search efforts at 6 a.m.
While the coast guard has stopped searching specifically for the crewmembers, it will keep an eye out during regular patrols of the area, a spokesman for 5th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters told Stars and Stripes on Tuesday via telephone.
The coast guard sent six of its patrol boats on Thursday and continued to send vessels until Monday, although its search team had shrunk during that time, the spokesman said.
A multinational effort to find survivors included U.S., Japanese and Australian aircraft and U.S. and Japanese ships. The search spanned more than 35,000 square nautical miles and involved some 900 hours, III MEF said Tuesday.
The U.S. Navy provided more than 180 flight hours searching primarily with P-8A surveillance aircraft. The U.S. Air Force provided more than 200 search hours via C-130J and KC-135 aerial refueling aircraft as well as with MC-130J special operations aircraft, CV-22 Ospreys tilt-rotor aircraft, RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft and an RQ-4 Global Hawk drone, officials said.
III MEF has declared the incident a “Class A” mishap, Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported Monday. Those involve total property damage of “$2 million or more and/or aircraft destroyed” and “fatality or permanent disability.”
Marine officials said Tuesday they are still investigating the incident.
MCAS Iwakuni is home to Marine Air Craft Group 12 and the Navy’s Carrier Air Wing 5. It is one of the Pacific’s largest air stations.