Four dead as helicopter crashes in village in central Japan, near site of 1985 passenger jet disaster

Kyodo

A helicopter crashed in a village northwest of Tokyo on Wednesday afternoon, killing four employees of the helicopter service company who were on board, local authorities said.

The helicopter crashed around 2:30 p.m. and burst into flames in the Gunma Prefecture village of Ueno, the site where a Japan Airlines jumbo jet crashed in 1985.

Operator Toho Air Service Co. said the four employees in the accident were 60-year old pilot Ichiro Kitagawa three mechanics — two in their 20s and one aged 50.

No damage to the surrounding residential area has been confirmed. The chopper was on its way to Tochigi Prefecture after leaving Yamanashi Prefecture shortly after 2 p.m., where it had transported some goods, Toho Air Service said.

The Tokyo-based air service company said the last radio contact from the aircraft was made around 2:03 p.m. to confirm its departure from the town of Hayakawa. The cause of the accident is unknown, the company said.

Kitagawa was a very capable seasoned pilot who belonged to its Yao office in Osaka Prefecture, while the three mechanics belonged to the Tokyo head office, according to Toho Air Service.

The helicopter was an AS332L manufactured by Airbus Helicopters Inc., a member of the Airbus Group, according to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.

The ministry’s safety board will dispatch investigators to the site to find out the cause of the accident.

Police said they received emergency calls from witnesses. The helicopter crashed about 700 meters west of the village office, according to local authorities.

Firefighters said another eyewitness told them that the chopper was flying west to east but made a U-turn. After it lost altitude an object that appeared to be a piece of equipment fell off the aircraft’s rear, according to the witness.

The accident caused a power failure in the village as electricity lines were damaged, affecting about 600 households, according to Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.