US Navy aircraft carrying 11 crashes off Japanese coast

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A US Navy aircraft carrying 11 crew and passengers has crashed into the sea off the coast of Japan, south-east of Okinawa.

The ship, which is in the Philippine Sea, is conducting search and rescue operations, the Japan-based US 7th Fleet said in a statement.

The cause of the crash was not immediately known, and the Navy did not release the type aircraft involved.

“Personnel recovery is underway and their condition will be evaluated by USS Ronald Reagan medical staff,” the statement said. “The names of the crew and passengers are being withheld pending next of kin notification.”

The aircraft was taking part in an ongoing US-Japan naval exercise off the coast of Okinawa in which some 14,000 U.S. personnel were participating.

The annual exercise is “designed to increase the defensive readiness and interoperability of Japanese and American forces through training in air and sea operations,” a statement on the event said earlier this month.

No further information was immediately available.

The 7th Fleet has had two fatal 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 that the collisions were avoidable and resulted from widespread failures by the crews and commanders, who didn’t quickly recognize and respond to unfolding emergencies. A Navy report recommended numerous changes to address the problems, ranging from improved training to increasing sleep and stress management for sailors.