Ships and aircraft from both the United States and Japan are combing the Philippine Sea for the remaining passengers from a U.S. Navy transport plane that crashed Nov. 22.
The plane, a C-2A “Greyhound” twin-propeller transport, was ferrying 11 people and some cargo from Japan to the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier, on a routine mission.
Eight of the 11 passengers were rescued about 40 minutes after the crash, according to a U.S. Navy statement.
The plane was on its approach to the Ronald Reagan when it crashed about 575 miles southeast of Okinawa. It is not known how close the plane was to the carrier, when it went down at about 2:45 p.m. local time.
The families of the three crew members have been notified that their relatives’ whereabouts are unknown. The names of the three missing will not be released until they are found or until 72 hours have passed as per Navy policy.
“Our entire focus is on finding all of our sailors,” Navy Rear Adm. Marc H. Dalton told CNN.
“U.S. and Japanese ships and aircraft are searching the area of the crash, and we will be relentless in our efforts.”
Engine Failure Possible
No solid information about the cause of the crash has been released. However, Japan’s Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters Nov. 22, “I have been informed from the U.S. military that engine trouble may have caused [the crash].”
Japan’s Defense Ministry said the crash site is about 90 miles northwest of the Japanese atoll of Okinotorishima. This would put it about 900 miles southeast of Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, where the flight originated.
The transport plane was assigned to Fleet Logistics Support Squadron Three Zero, Detachment Five, (VRC-30Det5) based at Naval Air Facility Atsugi, about 30 miles southwest of Tokyo on the Japanese island of Honshu.
The actual flight originated from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, an airbase on the southwest tip of Honshu, about 350 miles further southwest than NAF Atsugi.
VRC-30Det5 is tasked with “the transport of high-priority cargo, mail, duty passengers, and Distinguished Visitors between the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) and shore bases throughout the Western Pacific and Southeast Asia theaters,” according to the unit’s web page.
The USS Ronald Reagan was in the area after participating in Annual Exercise 2017 (AE17), a joint U.S.-Japan training exercise conducted in waters off Japan from Nov. 16 to 26.
Two other carriers, the USS Nimitz and USS Theodore Roosevelt, are taking part in exercises designed in part to show North Korea what kind of forces the U.S. and its allies have at hand, ABC News reports.
The C2-A Greyhounds are fairly old planes. Many have been in service for five decades. The aircraft are being phased out in favor of the long-range tilt-rotor V-22 Osprey aircraft, Reuters reports.
Long List of Mishaps
The U.S. Seventh fleet has been involved in a long list of mishaps this year.
One of the worst incidents was the collision between the guided missile destroyer USS McCain and an oil tanker east of Singapore before dawn on Aug. 21. The collision tore a hole beneath the waterline and flooded compartments that include a crew sleeping area. Ten sailors perished.
Next in severity was the collision between another guided missile destroyer, the USS Fitzgerald, with a Philippine-flagged container ship. Seven sailors died in that incident.
Those two collisions were found to have been avoidable, leading the Navy to remove Seventh Fleet Commander Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin, “due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command.”
Another guided missile destroyer, the USS Benfold, sustained slight damage when a Japanese tug drifted into it during a towing exercise off central Japan on Nov. 18.
After the Benfold collision, the U.S. Navy announced a series of reforms aimed at restoring basic naval skills and alertness at sea after a review of deadly ship collisions in the Asia-Pacific region showed sailors were under-trained and over-worked.
In January, the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam ran aground off the coast of Japan, damaging its propellers and leaking oil into the ocean.
In another incident in the region, the USS Lake Champlain, a Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser attached to the 3rd Fleet, collided with a 70-foot-long South Korean fishing boat, CNN reports.
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