TOKYO - A U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey aircraft made a water crash-landing off Okinawa Prefecture on Tuesday night in the first major accident involving the tilt-rotor transport aircraft in Japan.
Defense Minister Tomomi Inada said Wednesday she has asked the U.S. military to suspend Osprey flights until the cause of the accident is known and safety is ensured. The Japan Coast Guard has also asked the U.S. military to accept its probe.
The accident of the aircraft, seen by many in Okinawa as accident-prone, came at a time when a showdown between the central and prefectural governments are deepening on the plan to move U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within the southernmost island prefecture.
Jeff Davis, a U.S. Defense Department spokesman, said Washington "will absolutely get to the bottom of the cause of it and ensure that we learn from it so that it doesn't happen again."
The Osprey tilt-rotor transport aircraft made a water crash-landing about 1 kilometer off the eastern coast of the city of Uruma in the island prefecture at around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday.
The five crew members aboard ejected from the aircraft and were rescued by the U.S. military, the Defense Ministry said. They were transported to a U.S. naval hospital to receive treatment for injuries, the U.S. Marine Corps said on Twitter.
The Defense Ministry is checking the details with the U.S. military on the incident. Inada instructed her staff to thoroughly gather information and brief local residents on the incident.
A Japan Coast Guard helicopter found the aircraft on a reef about 80 meters off Nago at around 1:45 a.m. Wednesday. The coast guard is trying to grasp the situation around the waters also with two of its patrol ships.
The aircraft, belonging to the Futenma base in the city of Ginowan, also in central Okinawa and south of Uruma, is believed to be undergoing training at the time of the incident.
Osprey aircraft, which take off and land like a helicopter but cruise like a plane, have been a matter of concern in Japan for some time. The U.S. military has deployed dozens of the aircraft to the Marine's Air Station Futenma in a densely populated area in the prefecture.
The Japanese and U.S. governments are trying to move the Futenma base from Ginowan to the less populated Henoko coastal area of Nago. Okinawa, a host to the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan, seeks to relocate the base outside the prefecture.