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One dead and seven missing after two Japanese military helicopters crashed

One died and seven people were missing Sunday after an accident overnight in which two Japanese military helicopters apparently collided before plunging into the sea, officials said.

A spokesman for the Japan Self-Defense Force (SDF) confirmed the incident to AFP late on Saturday, saying one person was rescued but later confirmed dead.

Defense Minister Minoru Kihara said rescuers “presumably saw part of the aircraft in the sea, and we believe the two helicopters crashed.”

“At this time the cause is unknown, but first we are doing our best to save lives,” Kihara told reporters.

Hours later, Kihara told reporters that the rescued crew member “turned out to be dead.”

He also said that the ministry “discovered the flight recorders in places close to each other” and therefore there is a good chance that (the two helicopters) collided.

The helicopters appear to have crashed during nighttime submarine training off the coast of the Izu Islands in the Pacific Ocean, officials said.

“The flight recorders are being analyzed” as officials interview the crew of a third helicopter that participated in the exercise but was not involved in the accident, Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) Chief of Staff Ryo Sakai told reporters.

Communications with one helicopter were lost outside Torishima island at 10:38 pm (1338 GMT) and a distress signal was received from this aircraft a minute later, broadcaster NHK reported.

About 25 minutes later, around 11:04 p.m., the military realized that communications with the other aircraft in the same area had also been lost.

The MSDF’s Mitsubishi SH-60K helicopters are primarily based on and operate from Navy destroyers.

The MSDF said that since there were no other aircraft or ships in nearby waters, involvement of another country in the incident is unlikely, NHK added.

Japan is increasing defense spending and deepening cooperation with the United States and other countries in Asia in response to growing Chinese assertiveness in the region and unpredictable North Korea.

Last April, a Japanese army UH-60JA helicopter with ten people on board crashed near Miyako Island in southern Okinawa. There were no survivors.

In January 2022, a Japanese fighter jet crashed in the waters off the central Ishikawa region, killing two pilots on board.

And in 2019, an F-35A stealth jet crashed into the sea after taking off from northeastern Japan on a training mission, killing a pilot.

Last November, a US military Osprey aircraft crashed off the coast of Japan, killing all eight people on board, in the latest in a series of fatal accidents.

This prompted a decision by the United States the following month to ground the tiltrotor aircraft worldwide. Japan also grounded its fleet of the same aircraft.

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