US Aircraft With Eight on Board Goes Down in the Pacific

( – A US Air Force aircraft has crashed off the coast of Japan, killing at least one of its passengers. The aircraft, a V-22 Osprey tiltrotor, was flying between the Japanese mainland and Okinawa when it apparently suffered a mechanical issue. It’s the latest in a string of accidents that have plagued the versatile, but complicated, Osprey.

On November 29 a CV-22B Osprey — a long-range version used by US Special Operations Command — from the US Air Force 353rd Special Operations Wing, took off from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in southern Japan for a flight to Kadena Air Base on Okinawa. There were eight people on board, including its crew. It should have been a routine flight, but something apparently went wrong with the aircraft soon after it crossed the shoreline. Witnesses saw it flying upside down with its left engine on fire; then there was an explosion and it crashed into the sea. The Japan Coast Guard recovered one body and an empty life raft.

The Osprey is a unique aircraft that can take off and land vertically like a helicopter then tilt its rotors forward and fly like a conventional aircraft. That gives it the speed and range helicopters don’t have, but it also makes it much more complex, and the type has been dogged by crashes since its development. The latest crash is the 16th total loss of an Osprey, and since 2007 there have been 13 fatal crashes.

The worst accident happened before it even became operational; in 2000 a crash in Arizona killed 19 Marines during a simulated rescue. At least one former Air Force general says his career ended when he criticized the aircraft’s safety record. However, several older aircraft types — like the special operations MH-53 helicopter the CV-22B replaced — have already been retired, and Ospreys are doing their jobs now, so until the V-22 itself is replaced, a lot of US military personnel are going to be trusting their lives to them.

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