One Marine dead, five missing after jet and tanker collide off Japanese coast
By SETH ROBSON AND HANA KUSUMOTO | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 5, 2018
One Marine has died, another is in fair condition and five are still missing after a collision between a fighter and a refueling plane off the coast of Japan, U.S. and Japanese officials said Thursday.
The incident, which involved an F/A-18 Hornet and a KC-130 Hercules aerial tanker that took off from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, happened at about 2 a.m. during “regularly scheduled training,” a Marine Corps statement said.
The Hornet and Hercules collided midair and crashed into the Pacific Ocean south of Muroto Cape on Shikoku, the smallest of Japan’s main islands, according to Japan’s Defense Ministry. Five Marines were aboard the Hercules and two were on the Hornet.
The first rescued crew member — who reportedly came from the Hornet — was picked up by a Japan Self-Defense Force helicopter at 5:43 a.m., the ministry said.
The Marine in fair condition was being evaluated at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, said a III Marine Expeditionary Force statement issued just before 9 a.m. Thursday.
At 12:13 p.m., the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ship JS Setoyuki found and rescued a second Marine, a spokesman with the Defense Ministry’s Joint Staff told Stars and Stripes. That Marine has died, according to III MEF. Which aircraft he or she belonged to was unknown as of Thursday night.
“The search and rescue operations continue for the remaining five U.S. Marines who were aboard [both aircraft] involved in the mishap,” the message said.
“All available resources are being brought to bear,” U.S. Forces Japan commander Lt. Gen. Jerry Martinez said in a quote tweeted by USFJ Thursday afternoon. “Thank you #JSDF for your rapid response during this time of need. Our thoughts & prayers are with everyone involved.”
Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya told reporters Thursday morning that Japan was putting its “best effort into the search and rescue.” Aircraft from both the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and the Japan Air Self-Defense Force immediately responded to the emergency.
The Marines refuel aircraft differently than the Air Force, said Carl Baker, executive director of the Pacific Forum think tank in Hawaii.
Instead of a boom extended from the fuselage, the KC-130 has hoses hanging from its wing tanks. When pilots want to refuel, they steer a boom attached to the front of their aircraft into a drogue receptacle that looks like a basket on the end of the KC-130’s refueling hose, he said.
“They don’t get as close [as refueling Air Force planes] because the thing runs out quite a way from the back of the airplane,” he said.
However, refueling is a dangerous operation, Baker said.
Videos of refueling mishaps show drogue baskets slamming into planes and broken hoses whipping around like angry snakes spraying aircraft with fuel.
Baker said refuelers have crashed in the past but that he isn’t aware of an aircraft going down during refueling.