FUKUOKA – Debris from a helicopter that crashed with three people aboard was found Saturday in the Ariake Sea off Saga Prefecture, officials said.
The U.S.-made, four-seat Robinson R44 Raven was carrying three employees of SGC Saga Koku, a sightseeing and charter flight company, when it went down Friday night. The three are pilot Hiroyuki Ubukata, 48, Sachiko Fujimitsu, 33, and Yuki Morita, 33.
Coast guard officials said part of the chopper’s main body and a rear rotor were found in 2 meters of water. Rescuers continued to search for the three missing people.
The coast guard also said searchers found Fujimitsu’s driver’s license in a black backpack floating in the water near the other debris.
A fishing boat taking part in the search found a 1-sq.-meter piece of purple metal debris Saturday morning and the Japan Coast Guard confirmed it came from the helicopter.
Another fishing boat recovered two seats some 900 meters to the south, the coast guard said.
Searchers found a blade from a helicopter rotor and signs of an oil spill at the mouth of the Shiota River where it enters the Ariake Sea.
SGC Saga Koku officials told a news conference in the afternoon that the metal debris was probably a part of the chopper’s roof.
The company’s president, Mitsuyoshi Nakayama, said he was holding out hope that the three are still alive, but the chances are slim.
The helicopter last made contact with a Saga airport air controller at 9:04 p.m. Friday when it was over the Ariake Sea some 4 km off the town of Tara, Saga Prefecture. At that time, the pilot reported they were flying along the coast to Saga airport.
The chopper left Nagasaki at 8:47 p.m. and was to arrive at Saga airport at 9:12 p.m. It did not respond to an air controller’s message at 9:15 p.m. It was carrying fuel for a flight of about an hour and a half, according to SGC Saga Koku, which is based in Kawasoe, Saga Prefecture.
The search for the three missing people was being conducted by police, the Japan Coast Guard and the Self-Defense Forces.
Ubukata obtained a pilot’s license in 1990 and had 2,768 hours of flight time, the company said.
The three were on their way to the company’s office at Saga airport after conducting a night sightseeing flight over Nagasaki.
The company has been offering Christmas night flights over Nagasaki since Dec. 18.