Japan continues search for missing military chopper, rules out China link

Tokyo, Apr 11 (EFE).- Japanese authorities on Tuesday continued the search of the military helicopter that went missing five days ago near the Okinawa archipelago, while ruling out any link between the incident and the frequent Chinese naval activity in the area.

The UH-60JA utility helicopter with 10 crew members onboard disappeared from radar around 3.56 pm local time (06:55 GMT) on Thursday when it was around 3 kilometers north of the Irabu island in southwestern Japan.

Since then, Japanese armed forces, the coastguard and local fishermen have continued to run a joint search operation, without any success so far.

The search and rescue contingent includes 290 Japanese military personnel, six planes and three vessels, apart from submarine rescue teams.

So far rescue teams have only been able to find some debris believed to have been part of the helicopter – suggesting an accident – including a fuel tank, parts of a rotor blade and a military helmet, according to the Japanese military.

Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said that in the last communication received from the chopper – which took place around 10 minutes before its disappearance – no anomaly had been reported, adding that the search for the 10 missing crew members would continue.

The fact that the incident took place in an area which sees constant activity by Chinese vessels nearby – which are often monitored by Japanese aircrafts like the one that went missing – triggered speculations over a possible connection between the disappearance and Beijing’s military drills.

However, Japanese forces have largely ruled out this possibility by saying that the last Chinese naval activity in the area took place in the early hours of Apr. 6 – many hours before the helicopter went missing – and far from the spot where communication was lost.

Yamato Taro, a senior official with the defense ministry’s Joint Staff Office, said in the parliament on Tuesday in response to a question that there was no confirmation of any Chinese military movement that could have been linked with the accident.

In recent months, Tokyo has repeatedly denounced growing naval and air activity by China at several points close to its territorial waters, especially in the southwest, an area close to Taiwan which also houses the Senkaku islands (Diaoyu in Mandarin), which are under Japan’s control but are also claimed by Beijing. EFE


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