No survivors after Japanese government rescue helicopter crashes in mountainous Nagano

The downed chopper, operated by the Nagano prefectural government, was carrying seven firefighters, a pilot and a mechanic, all male

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 March, 2017, 11:08pm
UPDATED : Monday, 06 March, 2017, 12:44pm

There appear to be no survivors among the nine members of a rescue squad whose helicopter crashed on a drill over the weekend after police said on Monday that the final six bodies recovered showed no signs of life.

Three members were already confirmed dead after the crash Sunday on a snowy mountain in Nagano Prefecture, central Japan. Local police identified them as pilot Masaji Iwata, 56, and firefighters Naoto Ikuma, 35, and Michiaki Koda, 40. Iwata, who joined the Nagano disaster prevention air corps in 1997, was a veteran with over 5,100 flight hours.

Rescuers resumed their search for survivors around 8am on Monday and recovered the bodies of two other crew members who had been seen Sunday trapped in the wreckage as well as the bodies of four more found underneath the aircraft.

About 100 personnel were deployed by police, firefighters and the Self-Defence Forces in the search.

The downed chopper, a Bell 412EP, operated by the Nagano prefectural government, was carrying seven firefighters, a pilot and a mechanic, all male, according to the prefectural government.

They were scheduled to conduct a drill for saving mountain climbers with members descending from the helicopter using ropes.

Investigators from the Japan Transport Safety Board, an arm of the transport ministry, will arrive in Nagano to look into the cause of the crash.

The helicopter took off from Matsumoto airport in Nagano around 1.30pm on Sunday and, according to a flight plan filed with the ministry, was scheduled to land on the Takabocchi Plateau in Shiojiri in the prefecture at 1.53pm.

The helicopter failed to make radio contact as scheduled upon landing, prompting the prefectural government to request a police search around 2.37pm.

The helicopter was found crashed near 1,929-metre Mt Hachibuse straddling Matsumoto and Okaya around 3.10pm on Sunday.

A local weather office has said weather conditions at the time did not appear to have any impact on the flight.

The helicopter took off with sufficient fuel to continue flying for around 90 minutes, and no signs of abnormality in the aircraft were detected before the take-off, according to the transport ministry and the prefectural government.