One person has died and at least seven people are missing following an accident involving two Japanese military helicopters in the open sea during the night between Saturday and Sunday.

Japanese Defense Minister Minoru Kihara told local media that rescuers had identified parts of the aircraft in the sea , and it was possible that it was a collision between the two aircraft, off the coast of the Izu Islands, in the Pacific Ocean, as reports the public broadcaster NHK.

The government explained that the helicopters were carrying out night exercises to simulate an attack on submarines: communications with a helicopter were interrupted at 10.38pm , off the coast of Torishima island, and within a minute a signal of emergency from the same aircraft. About 25 minutes later, the military realized that communications with the other vehicle had also been lost .

The Maritime Self-Defense Force's Mitsubishi Sh-60K helicopters, produced under license from the US company Sikorsky - itself a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin - are mainly deployed on destroyers, and Japan is increasing defense spending by deepening cooperation with United States, in response to what is interpreted as a growth in China's assertiveness in the Asia-Pacific.

PRECEDENTS – In April last year a Japanese army helicopter with 10 people on board crashed off the coast of Miyako island, in southern Okinawa, leaving no survivors.

Last November another accident involving the US Army Osprey tiltrotor crashed south-east of the Japanese archipelago, killing the ten aviators on duty: the latest in a series of fatal accidents involving the aircraft produced by American Boeing.

The following month the United States ordered an "operational hold" of the fleet worldwide for further review.


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