The search for three remaining sailors who went missing after a United States Navy aircraft carrying 11 personnel crashed into the Philippine Sea, ended on Friday, November 24, said the Navy’s 7th Fleet.
The other eight aboard were rescued and are in “good condition.”
According to a U.S. Navy statement, the C-2A Greyhound propeller cargo plane crashed into the ocean southeast of Okinawa at approximately 2:45 p.m. on Wednesday, November 22.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with our lost shipmates and their families,” said Rear Adm. Marc Dalton, Commander, Task Force 70.
“As difficult as this is, we are thankful for the rapid and effective response that led to the rescue of eight of our shipmates, and I appreciate the professionalism and dedication shown by all who participated in the search efforts,” he added.
The U.S. Navy ceased search and rescue operations at 10:00 a.m. Japan Standard Time on Friday, according to a U.S. Navy statement released Thursday, November 23.
Both the U.S. Navy and units from the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) continued the search and rescue operations for two days, according to the statement.
“During the course of two days, eight U.S. Navy and JMSDF ships, three helicopter squadrons and maritime patrol aircraft covered nearly 1,000 square nautical miles in the search for the missing sailors,” said the statement.
“Eight Sailors were immediately recovered from the crash and transferred to Ronald Reagan for medical evaluation. All are in good condition at this time,” it added.
The names of the sailors are being withheld as relatives are notified.
Cause under investigation
The cause of the accident remains under investigation as of Friday, November 24. Tokyo’s Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters following the crash that the U.S. military initially indicated engine failure as a probable cause.
“From the U.S. military, we have received an initial report that engine trouble might be the cause,” said Onodera.
The twin-engine cargo C-2 aircraft was en-route to the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), which is currently operating in the Philippine Sea.
The C-2A Greyhound has been used by the U.S. Navy for over 50 years. According to Military.com, the aircrafts are said to be replaced by MV-22 Ospreys starting 2021 — the C-2 is expected to stop flying after 2026.
Tough year for 7th Fleet
The last time a Navy C-2A crashed was in 1973, which resulted in seven people dead due to engine failure shortly after taking off from Chania-Souda airport in Greece. But the latest crash marks the fifth fatal incident experienced by the Japan-based 7th Fleet this year.
Prior to Wednesday’s crash, 10 sailors were killed in August when the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS John S. McCain collided with an oil tanker near Singapore. The deadly collision came just two months after the USS Fitzgerald, another destroyer of the same kind, crashed into a Philippine-flagged container ship off the coast of Japan in June, killing seven people.
After investigations, the U.S. Navy said that the crashes were preventable, and that the commanding officer exercised poor judgment and leadership of the ship’s training program.
Following the McCain collision, two U.S. Navy commanders were fired due to a “loss of confidence in their ability to command”. The Navy’s top admiral then commanded a fleet-wide review of training and seamanship in the Pacific.
Republican Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee who also served as a U.S. Navy pilot during the Vietnam War, said last Tuesday during a hearing for Defense Department nominees that the Navy was overworking its workforce. He added that more tragic incidents would take place if changes weren’t made.
“I look you in the eye and tell you a 100-hour work week is too long for a young member of our Armed Forces,” said McCain. “The department is struggling to make do with budgets that are too small, unpredictable and driven by politics rather than strategy.”
“Something’s got to change. I don’t like looking at those mothers whose children’s deaths could have been prevented. This is a serious issue. It’s pretty obvious, according to the chief of naval operations, that this could have been prevented. And Congress is also complicit in this almost criminal behavior.”
On Wednesday morning, U.S time, McCain tweeted, “Praying for all involved in @USNavy aircraft crash as search & rescue efforts continue. The Senate Armed Service Committee is closely monitoring the ongoing investigation to determine why this happened.”
According to the Navy, the U.S. 7th Fleet is the largest of the U.S. Navy’s forward-deployed fleets with around 50-70 ships and submarines, 140 aircraft, and roughly 20,000 sailors at any given time.
The Fleet’s area of operation covers 38 maritime countries and 50-percent of the world’s population including five U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty Allies being the Philippines, Australia, the Republic of Korea, Japan, and Thailand.