One dead, several missing as Japanese navy helicopters 'likely' collide and crash in Pacific Ocean

One person was recovered from the water but later confirmed dead as the search continues for those who remain missing

Two Japanese navy helicopters carrying eight crew members have crashed in the Pacific Ocean, leaving one dead and seven missing.

Japan's defence minister has said the two helicopters possibly collided with each other as they crashed south of Tokyo during a nighttime training flight.

The two SH-60K choppers from the Maritime Self-Defense Force were carrying four crew each and lost contact late on Saturday near Torishima island, Defence Minister Minoru Kihara told reporters.

The cause was not immediately known, but officials believe the two helicopters “highly likely” collided with each other before crashing into the water, Kihara said.

Japan's Defence Minister Minoru Kihara speaks to journalists. Credit: AP

He added his ministry will suspend training flights for all SH-60s for now.

The navy chief of staff, Adm. Ryo Sakai, said the trainings will be suspended until the accident's cause is determined and preventive measures are adopted.

Rescuers have recovered a flight data recorder, a blade from each helicopter, and fragments believed to be from both choppers in the same area, signs that the two SH-60Ks were flying close to each other, Kihara said.

Officials will analyse the flight data to try to determine what led to the crash.

Japan's Maritime Self-Defence Force vessel sails near the site of a crash in the Pacific Ocean Sunday. Credit: AP

Search and rescue efforts for the missing crew were expanded Sunday, with the MSDF and Air Self-Defense Force together deploying 12 warships and seven aircraft.

Japan Coast Guard patrol boats and aircraft also joined the operation.

Only one distress call was heard - another sign the two helicopters were near the same place, because their signals use the same frequency and could not be differentiated, Kihara said.

One helicopter belonged to an air base in Nagasaki, and the other to a base in Tokushima prefecture.

The SH-60K aircraft is usually deployed on destroyers for anti-submarine warfare, but is also used for search and rescue and other missions. Japan has about 70 of the modified helicopters.

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