A U.S. military aircraft crashed into the sea near Yakushima Island, Japan, on November 29, 2023, resulting in at least one fatality and an ongoing search for other crew members.
The aircraft, identified as a CV-22B Osprey, was carrying eight airmen when it went down about two miles from Yakushima, an island located 650 miles southwest of Tokyo. The plane had departed from the Iwakuni U.S. Marine Corps Air Station and was headed to the Kadena Air Base in Okinawa.
The Japan Coast Guard, after receiving an emergency call from a fishing boat, dispatched patrol vessels and aircraft to the crash site, where they found wreckage debris and an overturned life raft. According to reports, one person was recovered from the sea unconscious and later pronounced dead at a hospital.
Witnesses reported that the aircraft’s left engine appeared to be on fire as it approached Yakushima Airport for an emergency landing. The incident occurred under clear weather conditions with light wind, challenging the initial assumption of a crash and leading the U.S. side to describe it as an “emergency water landing.”
Yakushima is known for its World Heritage-accredited wildlife and forests, making the crash a matter of environmental as well as human concern.
The United States maintains a significant military presence in Japan, with about 54,000 troops, many located in the strategically important southern island chain. This presence has been increasingly vital due to the growing Chinese military assertiveness in the South China Sea.
The Osprey aircraft, developed jointly by Boeing and Bell Helicopter, is notable for its ability to operate both as a helicopter and a fixed-wing aircraft. It is used by the U.S. Marines, the U.S. Navy, and the Japan Self-Defense Forces. However, its deployment in Japan has been controversial, with critics highlighting its proneness to accidents while the U.S. military and Japan defend its safety record.
In recent years, the Osprey has been involved in several incidents, raising concerns about its safety. In August, a U.S. Osprey crashed off the coast of northern Australia during a routine military exercise, resulting in the deaths of three U.S. Marines.
Additionally, another Osprey crash-landed in the ocean off Japan’s southern island of Okinawa in December 2016, leading to a temporary grounding of the aircraft by the U.S. military.
The current incident remains under investigation as efforts continue to find out the fate of the other crew members.