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Japan expresses concern over continued US Osprey flights

The Pentagon on Friday sought to alleviate fears of any issue with Osprey aircraft based in Japan after Tokyo expressed concerns over the U.S. military continuing to fly the aircraft in the country without providing more information about Wednesday’s fatal crash.

One airman was killed and seven others are missing after an Air Force CV-22 Osprey crashed off the shore on Yakushima in southern Japan.

A large search effort for the aircraft and missing crew members is ongoing, with “air, surface, and subsurface search of water and coastline in the vicinity of Yakushima,” Air Force Special Operations Command said in a statement Friday.

Despite the mishap, the Pentagon continues to operate Ospreys in Japan, deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh said Thursday.

Japanese Defense Minister Minoru Kihara has publicly stated that he wants the U.S. military to halt Osprey flights in his country — other than those involved in search-and-rescue efforts — and has asked them to do so. Singh said Thursday she wasn’t aware of an official request from Tokyo to the U.S. military to do so.

But on Friday, Japan’s top government spokesperson, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, said officials were “concerned about the continuing Osprey flights despite our repeated requests and the absence of a sufficient explanation about their safety” from the Pentagon, The Associated Press reported.

In a statement released later on Friday, Singh pointed out that the five remaining Ospreys from the squadron that crashed Wednesday were currently grounded, even as wider U.S. Osprey operations continue in the country.

She added that Defense officials have been in contact with their Japanese counterparts on the accident.

“The safety of our service members and Japanese communities is a top priority for the United States,” Singh said. “We have already started sharing information about the accident with our Japanese partners, and have pledged to continue to do so in a timely and transparent manner.”

Ospreys carry special operations troops and are hybrid aircraft that take off and land like helicopters but are much faster in the air, much like airplanes.

The aircraft has had a number of mishaps in the past several years, including in Japan.

She said the U.S. Ospreys “are still operating in Japan” but the department’s focus remains on the search-and-rescue effort.

“It’s currently under investigation to see exactly what happened,” Singh said. “If the investigation concludes that there need to be additional steps taken, we’ll … certainly do that, but at this time, the investigation is underway on what happened.”

The Osprey that crashed was deployed to Yokota Air Base in Tokyo and assigned to the 353rd Special Operations Wind.

There are a total of 44 Ospreys at U.S. and Japanese military bases in the country.

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