Two Japanese Naval Helos Collide Over Philippine Sea; 1 Killed, 7 Missing

April 21, 2024 6:57 PM
Two Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces SH-60K in flight. JMSDF Photo

Two Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force helicopters collided Saturday night in the Philippine Sea during nighttime anti-submarine warfare training, leaving one crew member dead and seven others missing.
Japan’s Defense Minister Minoru Kihara said during a Sunday morning news conference that contact with the first helicopter was lost at 10:38 p.m. Saturday 150 nautical miles east of Torishima, an uninhabited volcanic island about 600 kilometers (373 miles) south of Tokyo. A signal from an emergency locator transmitter was received at 10:39 p.m. Kihara said it was possible that both helicopters’ transmitters sent signals that were recorded as one because they operated on the same frequency and were in the same area. The ministry concluded the helicopters had collided based on the proximity of the recovered flight recorders and other parts.

Kihara said 12 Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ships, three fixed-wing aircraft, four helicopters, two Japan Coast Guard ships, and a Japan Coast Guard aircraft were involved in the ongoing search for the missing.

Earlier at a 2 a.m. Sunday news conference, Kihara said the helicopters, based at JMSDF Omura Air Base in Nagasaki Prefecture and JMSDF Komatsushima Air Base in Tokushima Prefecture, were part of a training exercise with JMSDF submarines, ships and aircraft. He confirmed no foreign forces were involved.

Adm. Ryo Sakai, chief of the JMSDF, said later Sunday that three helicopters had been flying in an exercise that included searching, detecting, and conducting mock attacks on submarines. Crew members of the third helicopter were being questioned.

The pilots commanding the crashed helicopters were identified as Lt. Cmdr. Takuya Matsuda and Lt. Cmdr. Kazuki Itamura. An investigation board has been formed, and all SH-60K training flights have been suspended, Sakai said.

Sakai also canceled his trip to China for the 19th Western Pacific Naval Symposium, which began Sunday in Qingdao. The biennial meeting includes 29 countries. China, the host, has not disinvited any member states, unlike Japan, which did not invite Russia in 2022 because of the Ukraine invasion.

U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel said the U.S. offered assistance in the search, but Japan has not announced a decision. “We will stand together, side by side, with our friend and ally, Japan,” Emanuel said in a social media post.

The JMSDF has about 80 SH-60Ks in service, with the transition to the SH-60L underway. The SH-60K is a variant of the Sikorsky S-70, built under license by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and equipped with Japanese avionics.

The incident occurred just over a year after a Japan Ground Self-Defense Force UH-60J crash near Miyako Island killed 10, including Lt. Gen. Yuichi Sakamoto. An inquiry cited simultaneous engine failures but could not determine the exact cause.

Dzirhan Mahadzir

Dzirhan Mahadzir

Dzirhan Mahadzir is a freelance defense journalist and analyst based in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. Among the publications he has written for and currently writes for since 1998 includes Defence Review Asia, Jane’s Defence Weekly, Navy International, International Defence Review, Asian Defence Journal, Defence Helicopter, Asian Military Review and the Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter.

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