In a tragic development, a U.S. military Osprey aircraft carrying eight crew members crashed off the coast of southern Japan on Wednesday. The incident resulted in the death of at least one crew member, as confirmed by coast guard officials.
The aircraft was on its way from the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi prefecture to Kadena Air Base on Okinawa. The crash occurred off Yakushima, an island south of Kagoshima on the southern main island of Kyushu. The coast guard, responding to an emergency call from a fishing boat, discovered gray-colored debris believed to be from the aircraft and an empty inflatable life raft. The coast guard has continued its search operations through the night.
Japanese media reported that the Osprey had requested an emergency landing at Yakushima airport shortly before disappearing from radar. A resident of Yakushima reportedly witnessed the aircraft upside down with fire emanating from one of its engines, followed by an explosion and its subsequent fall into the sea.
This incident has raised serious concerns about the safety of Osprey aircraft in Japan. Okinawa’s Governor Denny Tamaki expressed intentions to request the U.S. military to suspend all Osprey flights in the country. The Osprey’s safety record has been a subject of debate and controversy in the past, particularly in Japan where the presence of U.S. military bases is a sensitive issue.
Past Controversies Surrounding the Osprey Aircraft
The Osprey aircraft has been embroiled in controversy for decades, primarily due to its unique tiltrotor design which, while innovative, has led to several high-profile accidents. The recent crash in Australia during a training exercise, which resulted in three fatalities and several critical injuries, is part of a series of fatal incidents involving the Osprey since 2022.
Critics have suggested it might be time to retire the Osprey in favor of exploring new tiltrotor or VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) options. The aircraft’s safety record has been a point of contention, with some military analysts expressing reluctance to use the aircraft.
The causes of these crashes often remain under investigation, leaving unanswered questions about the aircraft’s reliability. The U.S. Air Force had previously grounded its Osprey fleet due to engine malfunctions leading to crashes or near misses. Similarly, the Marines and Navy temporarily grounded several V-22s to address a component malfunction.
A 2020 congressional report highlighted a broader trend of increased U.S. military plane accidents, attributing them to weak safety oversight and reduced flight hours for military pilots. This decrease in flight hours, partly due to prioritizing new purchases over maintenance, has left pilots less prepared for mechanical issues.
Moreover, poor record-keeping and inventory practices, as noted by the Government Accountability Office, have exacerbated maintenance issues. Despite these challenges, the Pentagon is moving forward with the V-280, a new tiltrotor aircraft intended to replace the Black Hawk helicopter. Whether this new aircraft will overcome the problems faced by the Osprey remains to be seen.