Japan's coast guard launched a search operation on Thursday evening for an army helicopter carrying 10 crew members that has gone missing off a southern Japanese island.
The coast guard received information that a Ground Self-Defense Force UH-60JA Black Hawk helicopter disappeared from radar on a mission in an area north of Miyako island. The search operation involves four patrol ships and is currently underway.
Traces of oil and debris in the sea could be of the missing helicopter
According to Japan's Kyodo News agency, coast guard ships have found traces of oil and debris that could be related to the missing helicopter, but officials have yet to confirm the report. Japan's national public broadcaster NHK reported that a senior commander from the country's self defense force, 6th Division Chief Yuichi Sakamoto, had been among those on board the Black Hawk.
The incident comes as Japan is working to bolster its defenses in response to China's increasingly assertive military activity in the regional seas, where tension is also rising around Taiwan. The Ground Self-Defense Force, or Japanese army, stated that the helicopter was from a base in Kumamoto prefecture on Japan's southern main island of Kyushu and was visiting Miyako island on a surveillance mission.
PM Fumio Kishida says govt would do its best to save lives
NHK reported that the helicopter disappeared from radar about an hour after it departed from a base on Miyako island and about half an hour before its scheduled return. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stated that the Defense Ministry was investigating and that the government would "do our utmost to save their lives."
A number of militaries around the world flies the American-made Black Hawks. Last month, the U.S. Army reported that nine soldiers were killed during a routine training mission in a mid-air collision involving two Black Hawks near Fort Campbell, Kentucky.