Japan has urged the United States to ground Osprey military aircraft operating within the Asian country following a fatal crash on Wednesday, the Defense Ministry said.
The Osprey, which crashed near a small island off the coast of southwestern Japan, made an emergency call to seek permission to land at a nearby airport about 10 minutes before the accident, the transport ministry said Thursday.
The call made around 2:30 p.m. Wednesday suggests some abnormality with the aircraft.
Defense Minister Minoru Kihara, meanwhile, said during a parliamentary committee session that a person killed in the crash was one of the eight crew members aboard the CV-22 transport aircraft, the first-ever fatal victim in Japan of an accident involving Ospreys. The rest of them are missing.
The Defense Ministry asked the U.S. military to confirm its Ospreys are safe to fly before allowing them to operate again in Japan, excluding any planes needed for search and rescue activities, its officials said.
But Ospreys were spotted flying even after the request from Japan, Kihara told reporters later Thursday.
Kihara said his ministry confirmed 20 takeoffs and landings by U.S. MV-22 Ospreys, the variant used by the U.S. Marine Corps, in bases in southern island prefecture of Okinawa, from Thursday morning until 3:30 p.m.
Citing growing public concerns, Kihara said he met with U.S. Forces Japan Commander Lt. Gen. Ricky Rupp on the same day in Tokyo, seeking detailed information about the activities of U.S. forces.
The ministry said Japan will also ground its own Ospreys for the moment.
Japan's Ground Self-Defense Force has a V-22 Osprey fleet which the government aims to relocate from a temporary deployment site in Kisarazu, near Tokyo, to Saga in southwestern Japan by 2025.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told a press conference that the government has no intention to change the relocation plan even after the accident but added that it will "take seriously" local safety concerns.
The U.S. aircraft, one of the six based at Yokota Air Base in the western suburbs of Tokyo, disappeared from radar at around 2:40 p.m. on Wednesday off the island of Yakushima in Kagoshima Prefecture, the Japanese government said.
The Japan Coast Guard said its sonar detected multiple protrusions on the seabed, about 30 meters below the water surface off Yakushima, believed to be the wreckage of the crashed Osprey.
According to government officials, the U.S. military explained to Japan on Wednesday that the Osprey involved in the accident made an "unplanned landing" at sea, but Japan later confirmed that the Osprey in fact "crashed."
The U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command said the aircraft was involved in a "mishap" while carrying out routine training, with the cause of the accident and the condition of the crew members unknown.
The Japan Coast Guard clarified Wednesday that six crew members were aboard the crashed Osprey after initially announcing that eight people were involved. It then corrected the figure back to eight on Thursday.
The coast guard added it handed over the body of the dead crew member to U.S. officials in accordance with the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement.
Ospreys, capable of taking off and landing like helicopters but also cruising like planes, have a poor track record of accidents both in Japan and abroad.
In August 2022, the U.S. Air Force grounded its Ospreys due to safety concerns over a malfunctioning clutch inside a gearbox connecting the engine to the propeller rotor and Japan's GSDF followed suit. They both resumed flights the following month.