Debris found in search for Japanse army copter with 10 crew

TOKYO — An unused lifeboat, a door and other fragments believed to be from a Japanese army helicopter were found after the Black Hawk carrying 10 crew members was presumed to have crashed at sea, officials said Friday.

Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada, apparently struggling to hold back tears, told reporters that none of the missing crew members have been found as the search continued Friday.

He said he took the accident seriously. “We will do our utmost for the rescue of the 10 people who are still missing, while continuing to gather information related to the extent of damage,” he said.

The UH-60JA Black Hawk helicopter disappeared Thursday afternoon while on a reconnaissance mission in Japan’s southern islands, according to the head of the Ground Self Defense Force, Yasunori Morishita.

It disappeared from radar only 10 minutes after departing from a base on Miyako Island and is believed to have crashed into the water between Miyako and nearby Irabu Island to the northwest. The area is about 1,800 kilometers (1,120 miles) southwest of Tokyo.

Coast guard patrol ships found an unused lifeboat whose serial number matched that of the missing helicopter and a door believed to belong to the same aircraft near the presumed crash site, army officials said.

Japan is aggressively building up its defense capability in its southwestern islands in response to China’s increasingly assertive military activity in the region, including near Taiwan.

The helicopter was stationed at a key army base in Kumamoto prefecture on Japan’s southern main island of Kyushu, Morishita said Thursday night. One of its 10 crew members is the division commander, Yuichi Sakamoto.

The army said the helicopter had a routine safety inspection in late March.

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