Lt. Gen. Yuichi Sakamoto takes command of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force's 8th brigade, March 31, 2023.

Lt. Gen. Yuichi Sakamoto takes command of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force's 8th brigade, March 31, 2023. (JGSDF)

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The body of a Japanese lieutenant general who died when his helicopter went down in the East China Sea nearly three weeks ago has been recovered and identified.

Lt. Gen. Yuichi Sakamoto, commander of the Ground Self-Defense Force’s 8th Division, was one of 10 aboard a Japan Air Self-Defense Force UH-60JA Black Hawk that disappeared April 6 during a reconnaissance flight 11 miles northwest of Miyako Airport.

Sakamoto, 55, is among five service members whose remains have been recovered from a section of the helicopter’s fuselage in 350 feet of water just offshore of Irabu Island, southwest of Okinawa. Two others have been identified and one body is still with the wreckage where the others were found.

Sakamoto was division commander for less than a week at the time of the crash.

Japan’s coast guard on Friday said it would suspend around-the-clock search efforts for the remaining four crew members. The Maritime Self-Defense Force continued the search this week.

“We made the decision after considering many aspects of the situation and making arrangements with related organizations,” a coast guard spokesman told Stars and Stripes by phone Tuesday. Some government spokespeople in Japan are required to speak to the media only on condition of anonymity.

A Ground Self-Defense Force spokesman on Tuesday declined to say when Sakamoto’s body was recovered.

The Black Hawk was on a reconnaissance flight 11 miles northwest of Miyako Airport when it went down with Sakamoto, five members of the division’s headquarters staff, four members of the Air Self-Defense Force’s 8th Wing and Camp Miyako commander Col. Masahito Iyota aboard.

Sakamoto was appointed division commander March 31. He previously served as commander of the 12th Brigade.

The Japanese government has selected Offshore Engineering Co. of Tokyo to raise the aircraft section, the spokesman said. Recovery work will take place near the end of the month and is expected to cost about $7.4 million.

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Keishi Koja is an Okinawa-based reporter/translator who joined Stars and Stripes in August 2022. He studied International Communication at the University of Okinawa and previously worked in education.
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Matthew M. Burke has been reporting from Okinawa for Stars and Stripes since 2014. The Massachusetts native and UMass Amherst alumnus previously covered Sasebo Naval Base and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, for the newspaper. His work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, Cape Cod Times and other publications.

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