5 U.S. marines missing after planes collide off Japan coast

Japan's Defence Ministry says a second crew member has been found in the waters off the Japanese coast where two U.S. Marine Corps warplanes collided and crashed. Five others are still missing.

2 were rescued from the sea, but 1 later died as a result of injuries

A Japan Coast Guard patrol vessel and U.S. navy airplane conduct a search-and-rescue operation at the area where two U.S. Marine Corps aircraft have been involved in a mishap in the skies, off the coast of Kochi prefecture, Japan. (Kyodo via Reuters)

A marine refuelling plane and a fighter jet crashed into the Pacific Ocean off Japan's southwestern coast after colliding early Thursday, and rescuers found two of the seven crew members.

One of the crew members is recovering in stable condition, while the other was declared dead, the U.S. Marine Corp. said.

The marine corps said the 2 a.m. crash involved an F/A-18 fighter jet and a KC-130 refuelling aircraft during regular refuelling training after the planes took off from their base in Iwakuni, near Hiroshima in western Japan.

The crash took place 320 kilometres off the coast, according to the U.S. military. Japanese officials said it occurred closer to the coast and that's where the search and rescue mission found two crew members.

The two aircraft were carrying seven crew in total, two in the F/A-18 and five others in the KC-130, when they collided and crashed into the sea south of the Muroto Cape on Shikoku island in southwestern Japan. The cause of the crash is under investigation.

President Donald Trump tweeted that his thoughts and prayers are with the Marine Corps crew members involved in the collision. He thanked the U.S. Forces in Japan for their "immediate response and rescue efforts" and said "Whatever you need, we are here for you."

The crash is the latest in a recent series of accidents involving the U.S. military deployed to and near Japan.

Last month, a U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornet from the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan crashed into the sea southwest of Japan's southern island of Okinawa, though its two pilots were rescued safely. In mid-October, a MH-60 Seahawk also belonging to the Ronald Reagan crashed off the Philippine Sea shortly after takeoff, causing non-fatal injuries to a dozen sailors.

More than 50,000 U.S. troops are based in Japan under the bilateral security pact.

Last year, a U.S. Marine Corps transport plane broke into pieces and plunged into a Mississippi soybean field, killing 15 Marines and a navy corpsman.

All aboard died from blunt force trauma and contusions, investigators said in a report released Wednesday.

Investigators said growing corrosion on a key propeller blade first noted in 2011 was not properly addressed. A corrosion pit eventually developed into a crack, breaking off from the propeller closest to the fuselage on the left-hand side of the plane and slicing through the fuselage where the passengers were sitting.  

The damage eventually knocked out the stabilizer of the plane, making it uncontrollable.

The incident occurred early Thursday into the sea south of the Muroto Cape on the island of Shikoku in southwestern Japan. (Google)