The U.S. military is still flying its fleet of Ospreys, one day after a U.S. Air Force CV-22 crashed off the coast of Japan with eight airmen on board.
“As of right now, we are still continuing to operate the Osprey aircraft. We have a commitment to safety. There is an investigation that is currently determining and looking into what exactly happened with this aircraft and the mishap. Should that investigation yield results that require the department to change anything about the Osprey or to take additional steps, we will certainly do that,” Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said Nov. 30.
After the incident, Japan grounded its own fleet of Ospreys, and has reportedly asked the U.S. to suspend all non-emergency V-22 flights from its territory. Singh said the Defense Department has received no such official request.
On Wednesday, the Osprey was performing a “routine training mission” when the incident happened, according to a Nov. 29 Air Force Special Operations Command press release. The tiltrotor was from Yokota Air Base, Japan, and assigned to the 353rd Special Operations Wing. While the cause of the crash remains unknown, the aircraft’s left engine was reportedly on fire as it tried to make an emergency landing at an airport.
Singh could not confirm multiple reports that one airman has been found and pronounced dead. AFSOC said in its release that the conditions of the eight crew members who were onboard are “unknown.”
“What I can tell you is this is still a search-and-rescue mission for the eight that were on board that aircraft. When we have more to share, we certainly will,” Singh said.
The Osprey crash is the third since June, when five Marines died in California; another three Marines were killed in August in Australia. An investigation into the California crash revealed that the mishap was caused by a gear problem the service knew about for years, called a “hard clutch engagement.” The Marine Corps has since decided to change a key part more frequently.
Last year, Air Force Special Operations Command grounded its fleet of Ospreys for two weeks because of “an increased number of safety incidents” involving hard clutch engagements. However, the Marine Corps did not ground its Ospreys at that time.
In general, the Pentagon grounds a fleet of aircraft only if there’s an indication of a class-wide or force-wide problem, said Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.
“For example, we had a spate of MV-22 crashes that resulted from ‘downwash’ of gravel and dirt into engines when MV-22s took off on rough terrain. The Marine Corps had to come up with procedural changes and some engine modifications to fix it. For example, not taking off completely vertically on loose gravel but instead a rolling takeoff,” Clark said.
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