A crew member who was rescued in the ocean after a U.S. military Osprey aircraft crashed on Wednesday with six people onboard off the southern coast of Japan has been declared dead, according to the Japanese Coast Guard.
The cause of the crash and the condition of the other five occupants of the plane were not immediately clear, said Kazuo Ogawa, a spokesperson for the Japanese Coast Guard. Initial reports suggested that the crew consisted of eight people, but the U.S. military later revised the figure down to six, he added.
Coast Guard received an emergency call from a fishing boat near the accident site, off Yakushima, an island south of Kagoshima, which is in the southernmost part of the main island, Kyushu, the spokesperson added.
Aircraft and patrol vessels from the department located one person, later declared dead at a nearby hospital, and gray debris believed to belong to the aircraft, Ogawa pointed out. The discovery was made approximately one kilometer (0.6 miles) off the eastern coast of Yakushima. An empty inflatable life raft was also found in the area.
“The government will confirm information about the damages and give top priority to saving lives,” said government spokesperson Hirokazu Matsuno to reporters.
The Osprey is a hybrid aircraft that can take off and land vertically like a helicopter but can rotate its propellers forward during flight, enabling it to travel much faster than a conventional plane. Various versions are used by the U.S. Marines, Navy, and Air Force.
According to Ogawa, the aircraft had taken off from the Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture and crashed while heading to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa.
The aircraft had attempted an emergency water landing, revealed Japanese Deputy Defense Minister Hiroyuki Miyazawa.
The Kyodo news agency reported, citing officials from Kagoshima Prefecture, that witnesses said they saw fire in the left engine of the Osprey.
The Japanese military base in Saga, in the southern part of the country, decided to postpone the aircraft’s scheduled flight exercises for Thursday, it added.
U.S. and Japanese officials said the aircraft belonged to the fleet of Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo. Officials from the Air Force in Yokota said they were still confirming information and declined to make statements.
Ospreys have experienced several accidents in the past, including in Japan, where they are present at both U.S. and local military bases.
In August, a Marine Osprey with 23 personnel onboard crashed on a northern Australian island, resulting in at least three deaths and five critically injured during multinational maneuvers.
Since 2012, there have been at least five fatal Osprey accidents involving the Marines, resulting in a total of at least 19 deaths.