Five bodies were found Sunday following a deep-sea dive in search of a Japan Self-Defense Forces helicopter that went missing last week with 10 personnel aboard off the southern prefecture of Okinawa, the Ground Self-Defense Force said.
It remains unconfirmed whether the bodies are those of the personnel aboard the UH-60JA helicopter. A part of the chopper has also been discovered, the GSDF said.
The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force submarine rescue ship Chihaya is pictured from Okinawa Prefecture’s Ikema Island on April 16, 2023. (Kyodo)
The bodies were found around 8:30 a.m. by divers on the ocean floor at a depth of about 106 meters.
The helicopter is believed to have gone down after it disappeared from radar shortly after taking off from a base on Miyako Island on April 6.
The discovery comes following a deep-sea search made through saturation diving, a technique that allows divers to work at great depths for long periods.
Those aboard the helicopter included Lt. Gen. Yuichi Sakamoto, the 55-year-old commander of the GSDF’s 8th Division based in Kumamoto Prefecture.
The bodies were discovered 6 kilometers north of Irabu Island, which is connected by bridge to Miyako.
The crash is believed to be an aviation accident although the exact cause remains unknown.
Neither of the two air traffic control centers in the area received a distress signal from the helicopter’s emergency locator transmitter which is designed to automatically activate on impact.
The helicopter underwent a special inspection in late March after 50 flying hours and was taken for a one-hour flight to check its safety but no abnormalities were found at the time, according to the GSDF.