By ELAINE KURTENBACH, Associated Press
TOKYO (AP) — A search ended Friday for three sailors missing in the Philippine Sea since a U.S. Navy aircraft crashed two days earlier, the navy said.
The C-2A “Greyhound” transport aircraft was traveling to the USS Ronald Reagan when it crashed. Eight people were rescued quickly and are in good condition, but Japanese and U.S. ships and aircraft had continued searching for the others.
The Navy’s 7th Fleet said details of the three missing sailors were being withheld pending completion of notification of next of kin procedures.
The Navy is investigating the crash. The twin-propeller plane crashed about 500 nautical miles (925 kilometers) southeast of Okinawa while bringing passengers and cargo from Japan to the aircraft carrier.
The Reagan was participating in a joint exercise with Japan’s navy when the plane crashed. The carrier was leading the search and rescue efforts along with Japan’s naval forces.
The Navy describes the Nov. 16-26 joint exercise in waters off Okinawa as the “premier training event” between the U.S. and Japanese navies, designed to increase defensive readiness and interoperability in air and sea operations.
The Japan-based 7th Fleet has had two fatal naval accidents in Asian waters this year, leaving 17 sailors dead and prompting the removal of eight top Navy officers from their posts, including the 7th Fleet commander.
The USS John S. McCain and an oil tanker collided near Singapore in August, leaving 10 U.S. sailors dead. Seven sailors died in June when the USS Fitzgerald and a container ship collided off Japan. The Navy has concluded the collisions were avoidable and recommended changes including improved training and increasing sleep and stress management for sailors.
The Fitzgerald left its home port in Yokosuka, Japan, on Friday to begin its journey to Pascagoula, Mississippi, for more repairs, the Navy said in a separate statement.
It said a heavy lift transport vessel, the Transshelf, will meet the Fitzgerald in deep water to begin lifting it to bring it back to the U.S.
Initial repairs to the Fitzgerald’s hull and other structures were done in a dry dock at Yokosuka before she returned to the water for return to the U.S. for final repairs, the statement said.