Japan military helicopter pilot’s body found after crash into residential houses

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe apologised over the accident and said he ordered the grounding of all 12 similar models of aircraft

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 February, 2018, 3:39pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 February, 2018, 3:39pm

Japanese troops on Tuesday found a body believed to be of the pilot of a military helicopter that crashed nose down, killing the co-pilot and burning down two houses and ripping the top floor off one of them. One resident of the house was injured slightly.

The Boeing AH-64 combat helicopter, belonging to the Ground Self-Defence Force’s Metabaru training camp, crashed in Kanzaki city in Saga prefecture seven minutes into a test flight after routine maintenance, defence officials said. The crash site in a residential area was 6km (3.6 miles) from the base.

The defence ministry said the co-pilot suffered heart and lung failure and was later pronounced dead, and the pilot was missing. On Tuesday, ministry officials said a body found where troops searched through the wreckage was believed to be the pilot and was being identified.

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Footage aired on Tuesday by public broadcaster NHK showed the moment of the fall, with the helicopter going out of control, spiralling and descending nose down. Earlier footage showed orange flames and black smoke rising from the charred house, which had its upper floor torn off. Witnesses reported a big boom and ripping noises from the sky before the crash.

An 11-year-old girl was the only one of the four residents of the damaged house who was home at the time and managed to escape, according to Saga prefecture’s disaster department. It said she suffered a minor knee injury. The house next door and a storage building were also damaged, the disaster department said.

Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera said the helicopter fell nose down after losing contact with air traffic control. He said Tuesday that the helicopter had its main rotor parts replaced during the maintenance before the test flight. Onodera said the cause of the accident is under investigation.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he ordered the grounding of all 12 helicopters of the same type for safety checks. During a parliamentary session on Tuesday, Abe apologised over the accident.

“It is extremely regrettable that the Self-Defence Force, which is supposed to protect the people’s lives and peaceful life, threatened the safety of the residents and caused tremendous damage,” he said.

The crash follows a series of emergency landings and other incidents involving US military aircraft on Japan’s southern island of Okinawa.