A prefectural government rescue helicopter crashed on an eastern Japan mountain Friday, killing two of the nine people aboard, the transport ministry and local government said.

Eight people, whose identities were not known, were found at the crash site and taken to hospital, but two of them were pronounced dead. Information on the condition of the remaining six was not yet available, while the fate of the remaining person was not known.

The chopper belonging to Gunma Prefecture lost contact with air traffic control earlier in the day and debris was found in the afternoon in a mountain forest in Gunma..

(Photo taken from a Kyodo News helicopter)

The chopper belonging to Gunma Prefecture lost contact with air traffic control earlier in the day and debris was found in the afternoon in a mountain forest in Gunma.

Police officers looking for the missing person around the crash site suspended the search Friday night.
The helicopter was on a flight to assess a trail route on the borders of Gunma, Nagano and Niigata prefectures, according to the prefectural government. The trail was scheduled to open on Saturday.

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism certified the crash as an aviation accident, prompting the dispatch of three investigators to the scene for an investigation from Saturday.

An eyewitness said the helicopter had been flying over the site at a low altitude and making a very loud noise.

According to the prefectural government, there was no flight recorder on the chopper as the installation of such a device was not mandatory.
The chopper had been under repair from April to June due to engine trouble, a senior prefectural government official said. In a press conference, another official said the helicopter license was scheduled for renewal in the fiscal year starting April 2020.

Those aboard were two prefectural disaster management officials, two employees of Toho Air Service Co. and five firefighters, according to the prefectural government.

The prefectural government identified the nine as including pilot Noriyuki Amagai, 57, and mechanic Susumu Sawaguchi, 60, both employees of Toho Air Service Co. operating the chopper.

The two were also part of a prefectural disaster management unit together with two other passengers -- Satoshi Ozawa, 44, and Akihiro Oka, 38.

The five others were firefighters Ken Tamura, 47, Yosuke Mizuide, 42, Hidetoshi Shiobara, 42, Hiroshi Kuroiwa, 42, and Masaya Hachisuka, 43.

The chopper, which the transport ministry identified as a Bell 412EP helicopter, took off from a heliport in the city of Maebashi at 9:15 a.m. and was scheduled to return at 10:45 a.m.

The prefectural government said the helicopter went missing after reception of its location information using GPS was cut off shortly past 10 a.m. A local firefighter office received the last radio contact from the aircraft at around 9:28 a.m., reporting it had arrived at a hospital.

A local weather station said the chopper is believed to have gone missing around Mt. Kusatsu Shirane. In the nearby town of Kusatsu, the weather was cloudy in the morning and the wind was not strong.

The helicopter started operation in May 1997 and had clocked over 7,000 flight hours.

In March last year, the same kind of chopper crashed in central Japan, killing all nine members of a rescue squad aboard.
In November the same year, a helicopter also operated by Toho Air Service crashed in the village of Ueno, Gunma, killing four people.