Citing officials from the Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF), Japanese news agency reported that the wreckage of Japan's UH-60JA military helicopter, which had been missing for a week, along with the bodies of five individuals, was found at a depth of 106 metres (348 feet) off the coast of Okinawa by deep-sea divers on Sunday.
The report stated that it is yet to be confirmed whether the bodies discovered belong to the individuals who were on board the UH-60JA helicopter. Efforts are currently being made to bring the bodies to the surface.
Departing from Miyakojima base on Miyako Island at 15:46 (06:46 GMT) last Thursday, the helicopter was scheduled to return to the same base by 17:05. However, it vanished from radar shortly after takeoff while flying between Miyako and Irabu islands.
Following the disappearance of the UH-60JA helicopter, a 24-hour search operation was launched that involved special submersibles, aircraft, and patrol boats. During the search, two life rafts, a door, part of the main propeller, a rotor blade, and a fragment of the side panel were recovered. On Thursday night, a significant piece of the helicopter's fuselage was also discovered near Irabu Island. Furthermore, according to media reports, the search and rescue team located what is believed to be several bodies of the helicopter's crew in the vicinity of Irabu Island.
As per the Defense Ministry, Japan first deployed the Black Hawk helicopter, which is a twin-engine, four-bladed utility helicopter developed by US manufacturer Sikorsky Aircraft and produced by Mitsubishi Heavy Industry, in 1999.
Officials from the Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) have stated that the UH-60JA helicopter underwent a specialised inspection in late March after completing 50 flight hours. The inspection was conducted to ensure the helicopter's safety, and it was taken for a one-hour flight as part of the process. However, no abnormalities were detected during the inspection or flight.
The aircraft was primarily utilised for rapid response, surveillance, and disaster relief missions. The helicopter in question was stationed at a critical army base in Kumamoto prefecture, located on Japan's southern main island of Kyushu, head of the Ground Self Defense Force, Yasunori Morishita's statement on Thursday night. The helicopter had a crew of 10 members, including division commander Yuichi Sakamoto, who had been appointed to the position at the end of March.