Pieces of wreckage from an Osprey military aircraft that crashed in waters off southwestern Japan were handed over to U.S. military Sunday, Japanese authorities said, as an around-the-clock search continued for seven missing crew members.
The wreckage was collected by a ship from the 10th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters in Kagoshima Prefecture, and by fishermen from the town of Yakushima, after the tilt-rotor aircraft went down on Wednesday during a training exercise near the island town.
The surrendering of the wreckage in accordance with the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement means it will be practically impossible for Japan to investigate the cause of the accident.
The only body recovered from the aircraft has been identified as Staff Sgt. Jacob Galliher, a 24-year-old direct support operator assigned to the 43rd Intelligence Squadron, the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command said.
The command said the search and rescue operation conducted in conjunction with Japan's defense forces and coast guard, as well as civilian volunteers, is ongoing and remains a top priority. It said the U.S. aircraft carrier Carl Vinson, its air wing, and other assets such as unmanned vehicles and divers have been involved.
"Our focus is to enable the ongoing, extensive 24/7 search and rescue operation while we care for the family and loved ones impacted by this mishap," Lt. Gen. Tony Bauernfeind, Air Force Special Operations commander, said in a statement.
The cause of the accident is being investigated. Ospreys have a history of mishaps, including fatal crashes.
The crash of the U.S. Air Force CV-22 resulted in the first-ever fatality in Japan in an accident involving an Osprey, rekindling concerns over the safety of the aircraft.
Japan has grounded its own Osprey fleet for the time being. It has also requested the United States, its security ally, not conduct Osprey flights except for search and rescue operations.
But the request has been rejected by U.S. Forces Japan who continue to fly all their Osprey variants including some MV-22s from Okinawa that are assisting in the search for the missing crew.