LATEST UPDATE: 10:30 a.m. Eastern time, Dec. 6
Search and rescue operations were underway off the Japanese coast early Thursday local time after a Marine Corps KC-130 with five crew members and an F/A-18 fighter jet with two crew members collided midair at about 1:42 a.m., roughly 55 nautical miles south-southeast of Cape Muroto, Kochi Prefecture.
Earlier today, military officials announced that one Marine had been rescued and was being evaluated by medical personnel at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, where the service members are based. Japanese officials later said the Marine was one of the F/A-18 crew members.
Later, Lt. Gen. Jerry Martinez, commander of U.S. Forces Japan, told Military Times that a second person had been recovered from the crash and was transported by helicopter back to Japan and was under evaluation.
In a statement late Thursday local time, Okinawa-based III MEF said the second recovered Marine had " been declared deceased by competent medical personnel.”
Neither Martinez nor III MEF would say which aircraft the deceased Marine was supporting at the time of the crash.
“The search and rescue operations continue for the remaining five U.S. Marines who were aboard the KC-130 Hercules and F/A-18 Hornet involved in a mishap about 200 miles off of the coast of Japan around 2:00 a.m. Dec. 6,” the Marines said.
Debris from the crash has also been discovered, Martinez said. Three Japanese ships are on scene, as are U.S. Marine Corps special operations MC-130s, several Japanese UH-60 equivalents and other Japanese search and rescue aircraft and a Rivet Joint.
“We are in the middle of a massive rescue operation," Martinez said.
At a news conference, officials from the Japanese Ministry of Defense said the three ships are the submarine rescue ship JS Chiyoda and two destroyers used as training ships, JS Setoyuki and JS Yamayuki.
The MoD said a disaster dispatch request was made at 3:30 a.m. to the commander of Japan’s Central Air Defense Force from the commander, 5th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters.
A UH-60 from the Hamamatsu Air Rescue Squadron took off for a search and rescue mission at 4:06 a.m. and other aircraft quickly followed. At 5:43 a.m., an SH-60 made the first recovery, one of the F/A-18 crew members, who reportedly is in stable condition.
Japanese and U.S. forces were able to quickly dispatch to the crash site because the F/A-18 pilot’s wingman circled over the crash area until rescuers could arrive, Martinez said.
Yokota Air Base has also put some of its C-130 crews on alert to assist throughout the evening. Col. Mark Mullarkey, commander of the 374th Operations Group, 374th Airlift Wing, at Yokota told Military Times that the first C-130 would depart tonight and run search patterns for the crew members.
“The circumstances of the mishap are currently under investigation,” the Marine Corps release stated. “There is no additional information available at this time.”
While the exact aircraft involved were not immediately released, Marine Aerial Refueler Squadron 152 flies the KC-130J out of Iwakuni and several fighter squadrons are based there as well, according to the command’s website.
This is a breaking news story and will be updated as more information becomes available.
Mike Yeo of Defense News contributed to this report.
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.
Tara Copp is the Pentagon Bureau Chief for Military Times and author of the award-winning military nonfiction "The Warbird: Three Heroes. Two Wars. One Story."