Rescue underway in Japan after two US marine aircraft collide

This March, 2018, photo shows a F/A-18 jet at United States Marine Corps air station in Iwakuni, western Japan. A search is under way off for crew members from two Marine Corps planes, a F/A-18 and a refueling plane, involved in what officials called a “mishap” off the coast of Japan, Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018. The Marine Corps says the incident involved an the planes that had taken off from a base on Okinawa for a regularly scheduled training mission. (Kyodo News via AP)

A big search and rescue operation is continuing in Japan for five missing US Marines after two aircraft with seven crew collided and crashed into the sea.

The Marines went missing after a refuelling plane and a fighter jet collided mid-air and crashed into the sea off Japan’s south-western coast on Thursday, Japanese and American officials said.

The planes involved are a KC-130 and an F/A-18 based at Iwakuni near Hiroshima, Marines officials say.

One was in a stable condition at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, while the second had been found about 10 hours after the collision and brought on board a Japanese military vessel, the ministry said. No other details about the second Marine were known, a ministry spokesman said.

The Marine Corps said in a statement the incident occurred around 2 am local time (17:00 GMT Wednesday) about 320km off the Japanese coast.

The US planes had taken off from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni and “were conducting regularly scheduled training when the mishap occurred”.

A Marines statement said: “We are thankful for the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force’s efforts as they immediately responded in the search and rescue operation.”

Japanese state broadcaster NHK reported that six helicopters and three vessels from the self-defence forces are involved in the search and rescue operations.

Defence Minister Takeshi Iwaya said Japan is working with the US to collect and share information about the crash.

“The incident is regrettable, but our focus at the moment is on search and rescue,” Iwaya said at a news conference. “Japan will respond appropriately once the details of the incident are uncovered.”

The crash is the latest in recent series of accidents involving the US military deployed to and near Japan.

Last month, a US Navy F/A-18 Hornet from the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan crashed into the sea southwest of Japan’s southern prefecture of Okinawa, though its two pilots were rescued safely.

The incident adds to a growing list of US military aviation accidents around the world in recent years, prompting hearings in Congress to address the rise.

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