National

Bodies of four ASDF jet crewmen found; search for remaining two, wreckage ongoing

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

The bodies of four crew members of a Japanese military airplane that went missing Wednesday were found Thursday on Mount Takakuma in Kanoya, Kagoshima Prefecture, defense officers in Tokyo said.

Thursday’s search for the remaining two crewmen was suspended in the evening, as was the search for the wreckage of the U-125 twin-engine Air Self-Defense Force jet.

The first crewman was found early in the day next to parts of the U-125 jet.

Some of the four bodies, which have not yet been identified, were found on a steep cliff near the Ontake Peak of Mount Takakuma, the officers said.

Hundreds of Self-Defense Forces members spent the day looking for the remaining members on the mountain, according to the ASDF officers.

Strong wind, rain and fog on the mountain have hindered the search.

“It is very regrettable and heart-breaking to receive a report like this,” Defense Minister Gen Nakatani told reporters following confirmation four bodies had been found.

“We are still unable to transport the four because of the steep land form and bad weather,” he said.

Initial confusion within the SDF and Defense Ministry resulted in the ministry initially saying that the SDF had found the bodies of all six crew members on the mountain.

However, it later turned out that only one body had been found. The other three were spotted by the SDF later in the day.

Nakatani blamed bad reception of wireless communication between SDF units as the cause of the initial erroneous report.

“We are truly sorry for causing such trouble for the families and other related parties,” he said.

The U-125 went missing at 2:35 p.m. Wednesday while checking radio signals for Kanoya Air Base’s air navigation aid system. It was flying at 880 meters when it dropped off the base’s radar. The base is operated by the Maritime Self-Defense Force.

The weather conditions at the time were not particularly bad for flight, an ASDF spokesman in Tokyo said.

The six crew members are a major and pilot in his 40s, a second pilot, two onboard maintenance officials and two radio operations personnel.

The aircraft belongs to the ASDF’s Flight Check Squadron, based at the Iruma Air Base in Sayama, Saitama Prefecture.

The U-125 in question had no record of past technical problems, according to ASDF officers.

Safety checks before take-off from the Kanoya base also found no abnormalities, the officers said.

In February last year a Maritime SDF helicopter that left the Kanoya base crashed on a mountain in Ebino in neighboring Miyazaki Prefecture, killing three crew members.