WASHINGTON/TOKYO (Reuters) – Six U.S. Marines were missing following a still-unexplained mishap off the coast of Japan on Thursday involving two U.S. Marine Corps aircraft, which may have collided mid-air during a refueling exercise gone wrong, U.S. officials said.
FILE PHOTO: A KC-130 Hercules with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364 (Rein.), 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, prepares to refuel a CH-53E Super Stallion during air refueling training in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility, March 14, 2013. Picture taken March 14, 2013 U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. John Robbart III/Handout via REUTERS
Japan’s defense ministry said that its maritime forces had so far rescued one of the seven Marines who were aboard the two aircraft at the time of the incident. Search and rescue efforts were ongoing, U.S. and Japanese officials said.
The rescued person had been on the F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet, and was a in stable condition at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya told a news conference.
“The incident is regrettable, but our focus at the moment is on search and rescue,” he said. “Japan will respond appropriately once the details of the incident are uncovered.”
The Marine Corps said in a statement that the incident occurred around 2 a.m. local time in Japan on Thursday (1700 GMT Wednesday) about 200 miles (322 km) off the Japanese coast.
The F/A-18 and the KC-130 Hercules refueling aircraft had launched from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni and were conducting regular training when there was a “mishap,” the Marine Corps said.
The Marine Corps did not elaborate on the nature of the incident. A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it occurred during a refueling exercise.
Officials who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity were unsure precisely how the mishap occurred but none suspected foul play. An investigation has begun.
The Marine Corps suggested Japanese search and rescue aircraft had taken the lead on the rescue mission.
“We are thankful for the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force’s efforts as they immediately responded in the search and rescue operation,” it said.
Reporting by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali in Washington and Kaori Kaneko and Tim Kelly in Tokyo; Editing by Peter Cooney and Rosalba O’Brien