National

Blue Impulse planes missing

Second incident within a week shocks ASDF officials

Two planes of the Air Self-Defense Force Blue Impulse acrobatic flight team went missing with three crew members aboard Tuesday morning over the sea off Miyagi Prefecture, ASDF officials said.

The incident has shocked ASDF officials as it occurred so soon after the June 28 crash of a C-1 air transport in the Sea of Japan off Tottori Prefecture. Five crew members remain missing from that crash.

The two T-4 jet trainers disappeared from radar around 10:20 a.m. while returning to the ASDF’s Matsushima base in the prefecture after training with four other jets, the officials said.

The missing personnel are Maj. Mikio Abe, 37, Maj. Miki Ichishima, 35, and Capt. Tomohiro Umekawa, 35, according to Miyagi Prefectural Police.

The aircraft disappeared over the Pacific Ocean some 25 km southeast of the base, ASDF officials said.

The six jets took off from the Matsushima base at around 9:50 a.m. and conducted training over the sea off Mount Kinka before heading back to the base, they said.

Given that the two accidents involving the ASDF planes occurred successively, ASDF Chief of Staff Shouji Takegouchi said Tuesday afternoon that the ASDF will suspend all its flights except those on rescue and other duties.

After last week’s crash of the C-1 plane, the ASDF announced that it will reinforce education on handling emergencies and conduct intensive checks of its aircraft and equipment.

The Flying Training Command, to which the Blue Impulse belongs, has also been undertaking such measures, Takegouchi said.

ASDF helicopters and Japan Coast Guard patrol boats are searching for the missing planes and crew.

Municipal officials in Oshika, Miyagi Prefecture, said they received reports from residents that they heard a loud noise in the nearby mountains. The ASDF has sent personnel to the area to investigate.

The Blue Impulse team was established in 1960 to give acrobatic performances. The team currently comprises eight T-4 planes and 11 pilots.

In past accidents involving the Blue Impulse, a T-2 trainer crashed during an air show in November 1982 at the Hamamatsu base in Shizuoka Prefecture, killing one person. The team stopped flying for two years following the accident.

In July 1991, two T-2 jets crashed after coming into contact with each other during a training flight off the shores of Mount Kinka.