Divers recover 2 more bodies from Japanese army helicopter that crashed near Okinawa
Stars and Stripes April 18, 2023
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa – Search parties recovered two more bodies Monday from the submerged wreckage of a Japanese military helicopter that crashed in the East China Sea nearly two weeks ago with 10 aboard, including a lieutenant general.
Four victims’ remains have been brought up since Sunday from the site in 350 feet of water just offshore of Irabu Island, southwest of Okinawa. The UH-60JA Black Hawk of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force disappeared from radar at 3:56 p.m. April 6 during a reconnaissance flight 11 miles northwest of Miyako Airport.
Japanese divers recovered one body Monday morning and the other several hours later, a Japan Ground Self-Defense Force spokesman told Stars and Stripes by phone Tuesday. Japanese authorities have yet to identify any of the recovered bodies.
Just one body remains in a section of the Black Hawk's fuselage discovered Sunday morning, the spokesman said. The remaining five individuals aboard the helicopter are unaccounted for.
The Black Hawk was on a reconnaissance flight 11 miles northwest of Miyako Airport when it went down with a mixed crew aboard, including Lt. Gen. Yuichi Sakamoto, commander of the Ground Self-Defense Force’s 8th Division; five members of the division’s headquarters staff; four members of the Air Self-Defense Force’s 8th Wing; and a member of Camp Miyako’s security force.
Sakamoto, 55, was appointed division commander March 31. He previously served as commander of the 12th Brigade.
The remains were carried by helicopter to an Air Self-Defense Force base on Miyako Island where the deaths were confirmed at 11 a.m. Tuesday, according to a Ground Self-Defense Force statement that day.
Five surveillance aircraft, seven Japanese navy and coast guard vessels and 360 personnel continued the search Tuesday for the remaining five crew members and missing parts of the Black Hawk, the spokesman said. Japanese navy divers also remain active in the area.
Some government spokespeople in Japan are required to speak to the media only on condition of anonymity.
Japan’s coast guard on Tuesday introduced a hydrographic survey vessel, the Heiyo, to the search. The vessels are used to survey seafloor topography, observe ocean currents and tides and investigate marine pollution.
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno on Tuesday said that search efforts continue around the clock.
“We will work hard to pull out all the five members we found and to find the other five missing members, and reunite them with their families,” he said in Tokyo. Conversations were underway to potentially employ private companies to aid in the search effort, he added.
The Black Hawk had flown to Miyako from its base on Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s four main islands, and 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 they said nothing about in-flight emergencies.
A section of the fuselage with several bodies was discovered around 10 p.m. Thursday using sonar and underwater cameras, a Ground Self-Defense Force spokeswoman said Friday. A remotely operated underwater vehicle launched the next day revealed “severe” damage to the aircraft section.
Rough seas kept divers from the area until Sunday, a Joint Staff spokesman said by phone that day. Two bodies were recovered later that day.
More than 20 pieces of the helicopter have been found, including portions of the nose, rotor blade and fuel tank. The aircraft’s flight recorder has not been found.