Two Japanese Navy helicopters with eight crew members have reportedly crashed in the Pacific Ocean

Two Japanese naval helicopters with eight crew members on board are believed to have crashed in the Pacific Ocean south of Tokyo during a night training exercise, and rescuers were searching for the missing, Japan’s defense minister said.

The Maritime Self-Defense Force’s two SH-60K helicopters with four crew members each lost contact late Saturday near the Pacific island of Torishima, about 600 kilometers south of Tokyo, Defense Minister Minoru Kihara told reporters.

One of the eight crew members was pulled from the water, but his or her condition was unknown. Officials were still searching for the other seven.

The cause of the crash was not immediately known, Kihara said, adding that officials are prioritizing the rescue operation.

The MSDF deployed eight warships and five aircraft to search and rescue the missing crew. They found fragments believed to have come from one of the SH-60Ks, Kihara said.

“We think the helicopters crashed,” he said.

The helicopters, twin-engine, multi-mission aircraft designed by Sikorsky and known as Seahawk, were conducting anti-submarine training in the waters at night, Kihara said. One lost contact at 10:38 p.m. (1338 GMT) after sending a distress signal. The other plane lost contact about 25 minutes later. One belonged to an air base in Nagasaki and the other at a base in Tokushima Prefecture.

The SH-60K aircraft is usually deployed on destroyers for anti-submarine missions.

Saturday’s training involved only the Japanese navy and was not part of a multinational exercise, defense officials said. They said no foreign aircraft or warships had been spotted in the area.

Japan, under its 2022 Security Strategy, has accelerated its military build-up and strengthening of deterrence in Japan’s southwestern Pacific Islands and the East China Sea to counter threats from China’s increasingly assertive military activities to go. Japan has extensively conducted its own naval exercises in recent years, as well as joint exercises with its ally the United States and other partners.

Saturday’s apparent crash comes a year after a Ground Self-Defense Force UH-60 Blackhawk crashed off Japan’s southwestern island of Miyako, killing all 10 crew members. In January 2022, an Air Self-Defense F-15 fighter jet crashed off the north-central coast of Japan, killing two crew members.

Japanese public television NHK said no weather advisories had been issued in the area at the time of Saturday’s crash.