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Search continues for five Marines still missing after deadly midair collision near Japan

A Japanese Coast Guard ship is seen at sea during a search operation for U.S. Marine refueling plane and fighter jet off Muroto, Kochi prefecture, southwestern Japan, on Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018.

KYODO NEWS/AP

By SETH ROBSON AND HANA KUSUMOTO | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 6, 2018

TOKYO – Five Marines involved in a collision between a fighter jet and a refueling plane remain missing off Japan’s coast as a multinational search enters its second day, a Japanese Defense Ministry official said Friday.

Two Marines were recovered from the Pacific Ocean after an F/A-18 Hornet and a KC-130 Hercules aerial tanker collided midair just before 2 a.m. Thursday and crashed in the sea south of Muroto Cape on Shikoku Island, according to the Defense Ministry.

The first rescued crew member, who reportedly came from the Hornet, is in fair condition, U.S. and Japanese officials said. The other died after being picked up by a Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force vessel.

A search launched after the accident continued after sunset Thursday with the five remaining crew members still unaccounted for, the Defense Ministry spokesman said.

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Two Japan Air Self-Defense Force UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, a U-125 aircraft and three JMSDF ships have been looking for the Marines as of 7 a.m. Friday, the spokesman said. They were joined by aircraft and vessels from the Japan Coast Guard and U.S. military.

A C-130J Super Hercules carrying a Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape specialist took part in Thursday’s search, said 374th Airlift Wing spokeswoman Capt. Alicia Premo. Another took off from Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo on Friday morning.

The 353rd Special Operations Group at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, has also been supporting the efforts with four C-130s, four CV-22 Ospreys and rescue teams from the 320th Special Tactics Squadron, said spokeswoman 1st Lt. Renee Douglas.

“We also brought search and rescue personnel from our partners at the 31st Rescue Squadron,” she said. “We are working to provide 24-hour coverage to the search area.”

“Our hearts go out to the families of the aircrew involved,” Douglas added. “As we continue to search we are encouraged by the quick responses by Japanese and U.S. forces and our ability to work together on short notice.”

The downed planes, which launched from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, were conducting “regularly scheduled training,” including aerial refueling, when the accident happening, the Marine Corps said. It is still investigating what caused the crash.

President Donald Trump tweeted that his thoughts and prayers are with the Marines involved in the collision. He thanked U.S. Forces Japan for its “immediate response and rescue efforts” and said, “Whatever you need, we are here for you.”

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller also took to Twitter to speak about the accident.

“As Marines, Navy, and Japanese partners continue search and rescue efforts off the coast of Japan for those involved in this tragic aviation mishap last night, we ask that you keep the families in your thoughts and prayers as we investigate,” he wrote.

The crash is the latest in recent series of accidents involving the U.S. military deployed to and near Japan.

Last month, a Navy F/A-18 Hornet from the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan crashed into the sea southwest of Okinawa. Its two pilots were rescued safely. In mid-October, an MH-60 Seahawk also belonging to the Ronald Reagan crashed aboard the carrier while in the Philippine Sea, causing nonfatal injuries to a dozen sailors.

More than 50,000 U.S. troops are based in Japan under a bilateral security pact.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report, which will be updated.

robson.seth@stripes.com
Twitter: @SethRobson1

kusumoto.hana@stripes.com
Twitter: @HanaKusumoto

Two F/A-18D Hornets approach a KC-130J aerial refueling aircraft on Oct. 13, 2016. An F/A-18 jet and a KC-130 refueling aircraft collided on Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018.
TREVER STATZ/U.S. MARINE CORPS

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