TOKYO (AP) — A crew member rescued from the sea after a U.S. military Osprey plane carrying six people crashed Wednesday in southern Japan has died, coast guard officials said.
Coast Guard spokesman Kazuo Ogawa said the cause of the crash and the condition of the five other people on board were not immediately known. Initial reports said eight people were on board, but the US military later revised that number to six, he said.
The Coast Guard received an emergency call from a fishing boat near the crash site on Yakushima Island, south of Kagoshima on the southern main island of Kyushu.
Coast Guard aircraft and patrol boats located one person, who was later pronounced dead at a nearby hospital, and the gray debris is believed to be from the plane, Ogawa said. They were found about 1 kilometer (0.6 mi) off the east coast of Yakushima. An empty inflatable life raft was found in the area.
“The government will confirm information about the damage and give high priority to saving lives,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters.
The Osprey is a hybrid aircraft that takes off and lands like a helicopter, but can rotate its propellers forward during flight and travel very fast like an airplane. Versions of the aircraft are flown by the US Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force.
The plane took off from the US Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture and crashed en route to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Ogawa said.
Japanese Deputy Defense Minister Hiroyuki Miyazawa said the Osprey attempted to make an emergency landing at sea.
Kyodo news agency quoted Kagoshima prefecture officials as saying witnesses saw flames coming from the Osprey’s left engine.
A Japanese military base in Saga, southern Japan, decided to postpone Osprey flight exercises scheduled for Thursday, it said.
The plane belonged to Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo, US and Japanese officials said. US Air Force officials in Yokota said they were still confirming the information and had no immediate comment.
Ospreys have been involved in several crashes at US and Japanese military bases in the past, including in Japan. In Okinawa, home to half of the 50,000 US troops in Japan, Gov. Denny Tamaki told reporters on Wednesday that he would ask the US military to ground all Osprey aircraft in Japan.
In December 2016, a US Marine Corps Osprey crashed off the coast of Okinawa, injuring two of five crew members and sparking complaints among local residents about US bases and the Osprey’s safety record.
A US Marine Corps Osprey carrying 23 sailors crashed off a northern Australian island in August, killing at least three and seriously injuring at least five during an international exercise.
This is the fifth fatal accident involving a Marine Osprey since 2012, when the death toll was at least 19.