Two U.S. Marines were rescued from the ocean on Thursday but five remain missing after a fighter jet and a refueling plane collided in midair off the coast of Japan.
The crash happened while their crafts were refueling some 200 miles off Japan, U.S. and Japanese authorities said.
The planes, a KC-130 refueling aircraft carrying five crew members and an F/A-18 fighter jet carrying two, “came in contact” and crashed into the sea at around 1:42 a.m. Thursday (11:42 a.m. ET Wednesday), said Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary.
The first Marine was found soon after the crash and taken back to his base at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in southern Japan, where he has received medical care and is in “fair” condition, the Marines said.
The second marine was picked up at about 12:13 p.m., more than 10 hours after the crash, and was taken onboard a Japanese naval vessel before being transferred to a Red Cross hospital in Tokushima on the island of Shikoku, said Maj. Gen. Yasuko Onouchi, director general of public affairs in Japan’s Defense Ministry.
U.S. Ambassador William Hagerty in a tweet applauded Japan and U.S. forces for their “immediate highly integrated response.” The Marines also expressed their appreciation for Japan’s efforts and those of the U.S. 7th Fleet, which has been flying Navy P-8A maritime patrol and reconnaissance Aircraft out of Kadena Air Base on the island of Okinawa.
“I am encouraged by the fact that the United States and Japan have worked so closely together, and I would like to thank Japan’s Self Defence Force for immediately joining us in a closely integrated exercise to search and rescue for those involved,” he said.
He went on to underline the two country’s ties, and the role American forces play in keeping the region safe.
Marines “risk their lives every day to protect Japan and to protect this region, and sometimes they pay the greatest cost,” he said. “I want to emphasize this security alliance that we have is critical and it is moving forward in a very positive direction.”
The Japanese Defense Ministry initially said that two of the seven Marines had been rescued. But one of those two has since died, Marine spokesman Capt. Chris Harrison said.