Flight helmet, fuel tank found during search for crashed Japanese military helicopter
Stars and Stripes April 11, 2023
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Japanese search crews have found more debris from a Ground Self-Defense Force helicopter that presumably crashed Thursday into the East China Sea with a high-ranking general aboard.
A flight helmet belonging to one of the 10 crew members and a fuel tank were discovered Sunday near Irabu Island, west of Miyako Island, but no survivors or bodies have been found, according to Japanese military spokesmen.
The 8th Air Wing UH-60JA Black Hawk disappeared from radar at 3:56 p.m. Thursday during a reconnaissance flight 11 miles northwest of Miyako Airport. The aircraft was carrying four members of the wing, a member of Camp Miyako’s security force and five members of the 8th Division headquarters staff, including commander Lt. Gen. Yuichi Sakamoto, a Japan Ground Self-Defense Force spokesman told Stars and Stripes by phone Tuesday.
Sakamoto, 55, has been the division commander less than a month. He previously served as commander of the 12th Brigade.
“We are continuing the search today, but we haven’t had any success at this time,” the spokesman said. Some government spokespeople in Japan may speak to the media only on condition of anonymity.
He declined to provide the names and ranks of the other crew members onboard.
Japan Ground Self-Defense Force soldiers in a small rubber boat found the helmet at 10:40 a.m. near the northeast shore of Irabu, the spokesman said. The fuel tank was found north of the island about four hours later by the Japan coast guard, a coast guard spokesman said by phone Tuesday.
Search efforts were underway Tuesday by six surveillance planes, including a pair of P-3C Orions, two coast guard vessels, the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force minesweeper JS Shishijima, submarine rescue ship JS Chihaya, destroyer JS Haguro and about 300 personnel, a spokesman from Japan’s Joint Staff Office said by phone on Tuesday.
Irabu Island is connected by a bridge to Miyako, less than three miles to the southeast. Miyako is 188 miles southwest of Okinawa.
The Black Hawk had flown to Miyako from its base on Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s four main islands, the Ground Self-Defense Force spokesman said. It crashed 10 minutes after taking off from Miyako Airport.
The crew last radioed air traffic controllers about two minutes before the helicopter disappeared from radar, but did not report any in-flight emergencies, the spokesman said.
Japanese investigators do not believe the Black Hawk’s disappearance has anything to do with five Chinese navy vessels spotted hours earlier in international waters around the Sakishima Islands, Taro Yamato, administrative vice chief to the Joint Staff, told Japan’s House of Councilors on Tuesday. Miyako belongs to the Sakishima chain.
“We conducted 24-hour surveillance on those vessels and didn’t notice any action related to this accident,” Yamato said.
Soon after the crash, an aircraft door and an uninflated life raft were recovered northwest of Miyako, a Japan coast guard spokesman said Friday.
The search will continue around the clock, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said Monday in Tokyo.