A Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) helicopter that crashed off Aomori Prefecture in August, leaving three crewmen missing, has been discovered on the bottom of the sea at a depth of approximately 2,600 meters, the MSDF announced on Oct. 24.
Defense Ministry sources told reporters that images of bodies believed to be those of the crewmen were confirmed on footage captured by an autonomous underwater vehicle off the prefecture. The MSDF plans to salvage the SH-60J patrol helicopter as early as this week.
According to the MSDF, a contracted salvage company used sonic equipment to search the seabed near where the helicopter crashed, and discovered what appeared to be the airframe of a chopper in mid-September. The company searched the area again on Oct. 16 using an autonomous underwater vehicle and identified the airframe as that of the crashed helicopter from camera footage. What appeared to be bodies were in the cockpit.
The company had originally planned to salvage the helicopter on Oct. 21 using a crane on a barge, but it suspended the operation due to a typhoon that struck Japan, and waited for the weather to recover.
The helicopter had taken off from the destroyer Setogiri on the night of Aug. 26. It plunged into the sea approximately 90 kilometers west-southwest of Cape Tappi after losing balance while a faulty indicator was being fixed during a landing-and-takeoff drill.
The helicopter belongs to Ominato Base in the city of Mutsu, Aomori Prefecture. One of the crewmen was rescued, but three others including Yuki Sato, the 36-year-old captain, were left missing.