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One dead and seven missing after two Japanese military helicopters crashed

AFP PhotoDOCUMENT REFERENCE000_1B74QC SLUGJAPAN - AVIATION - ACCIDENT CREATION DATE8/13/1985 CITY/COUNTRYJAPAN CREDIT FILE SIZE/PIXELS/DPI60.16 Mb / 5616 x 3744 / 300 dpi JAPAN AVIATION ACCIDENT A helicopter flies over the Japan Airlines crash site ( JAL) Boeing 747 that crashed near Mount Osutaka in Japan on August 13, 1985.  AFP

A helicopter flies over the accident site of the Japan Airlines (JAL) Boeing 747 that crashed near Mount Osutaka in Japan on August 13, 1985. (File photo by AFP)

One died and seven people were missing Sunday after an apparent overnight accident involving two Japanese military helicopters at sea, officials said.

A spokesman for the Japan Self-Defense Force (SDF) confirmed the incident to AFP late on Saturday, saying one person was rescued but later confirmed dead.

Defense Minister Minoru Kihara said rescuers “presumably saw part of the aircraft in the sea, and we believe the two helicopters crashed.”

“At this time the cause is unknown, but first we are doing our best to save lives,” Kihara told reporters.

He said the helicopters were “conducting anti-submarine exercises at night.”

Hours later, Kihara told reporters that the rescued crew member “appeared to be dead,” the spokesperson said.

He also said the ministry had retrieved flight recorders and was “analyzing the cause of the incident, including the possibility of a collision between the two.”

The helicopters appear to have crashed during night training off the Izu Islands in the Pacific Ocean, broadcaster NHK reported.

Communications with one helicopter were lost outside Torishima island at 10:38 pm (1338 GMT) and a distress signal was received from this aircraft a minute later, NHK reported.

About 25 minutes later, around 11:04 p.m., the military realized that communications with the other aircraft in the same area had also been lost.

The Mitsubishi SH-60K helicopters of the Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) are primarily based on and operate from naval destroyers.

The MSDF said that since there were no other aircraft or ships in nearby waters, involvement of another country in the incident is unlikely, NHK added.

Japan is increasing defense spending and deepening cooperation with the United States and other countries in Asia in response to growing Chinese assertiveness in the region and unpredictable North Korea.

Last April, a Japanese army helicopter with ten people on board crashed near Miyako Island in southern Okinawa. There were no survivors.

On board the UH-60JA were two pilots, two mechanics and six crew members, including an army general from the 8th Division.

In January 2022, a Japanese fighter jet crashed in the waters off the central Ishikawa region, killing two pilots on board.

And in 2019, an F-35A stealth jet crashed into the sea after taking off from northeastern Japan on a training mission.

The pilot, who died in the crash, appeared to have spatial disorientation.

Last November, a US military Osprey aircraft crashed off the coast of Japan, killing all eight people on board, in the latest in a series of fatal accidents.

This prompted a decision by the United States the following month to ground the tiltrotor aircraft worldwide. Japan also grounded its fleet of the same aircraft.