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1 dead, 2 policemen injured after helicopter rescue operation in mountains goes awry

KOFU -- A man died during an attempted helicopter rescue operation in a mountainous area in Yamanashi Prefecture to save him, while two police officers also sustained minor injuries, it had been learned.

On May 14, the prefectural police helicopter "Hayate" attempted to rescue an injured man on a slope near the Komuro River at roughly 1:50 p.m. in the village of Tabayama, Yamanashi Prefecture. According to police, the rescue helicopter was hovering over the location, but when it changed position to avoid the wind, rocks and tree branches tumbled down the steep slope.

The debris injured two police officers and appeared to also hit the man. He was lifted out unconscious and taken to a hospital in the capital city of Kofu, where he was confirmed dead.

Yamanashi Prefectural Police announced on May 15 that the victim is 49-year-old Tomohiro Ito, a banker from Yokohama. His car was discovered on a forest road in Tabayama, and officers from the Uenohara Police Station began their search along the Komuro River around 9 a.m. on May 14.

Before rescue operations began, the man was conscious and told a police officer who found him that he had injured his left ankle. A total of eight people, members of the regional mountain rescue unit and police officers, were dispatched by helicopter to the slope to rescue him.

The prefectural police stated in regards to the accident that they are "investigating the reason the rocks and branches fell and whether or not they struck the man." The head of the prefectural police's local community safety division Koichi Tsuruta commented, "It's truly terrible that the victim died during rescue operations to save him. I would like to quickly clarify the cause of the accident."

The prefectural police are currently investigating the case eyeing the possibility of suspected professional negligence resulting in death. The Aviation Safety and Security Department of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism dispatched a team of two accident investigators to the scene on May 15.

Other accidents involving rescue helicopters include one in July 2010, where a disaster rescue helicopter in Saitama Prefecture crashed coming to the aid of a fallen woman, killing five on board. This March, a disaster rescue helicopter in Nagano Prefecture also crashed during a training drill, killing all nine people on board, including prefectural firefighters.

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