Body of GSDF helicopter captain found at crash site

Jiji Press KANZAKI, Saga (Jiji Press) — The body of the missing captain of a Japanese attack helicopter that crashed on Monday was found at the accident site in the city of Kanzaki, Saga Prefecture, on Tuesday.

Lt. Col. Kenichi Saito, the 43-year-old captain of the AH-64D helicopter of the Ground Self-Defense Force, had been missing since the aircraft crashed into private housing in Kanzaki.

The other crew member of the two-seater helicopter, Hiroki Takayama, a 26-year-old master sergeant and copilot, was confirmed dead on Monday.

Two houses were destroyed or partially damaged by a fire caused by the chopper crash, and an 11-year-old elementary school girl, a resident of one of the houses, was slightly injured.

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said on Tuesday that the helicopter’s flight data recorder has been recovered at the site.

The helicopter, which took off from the GSDF’s Metabaru camp in the Saga town of Yoshinogari at 4:36 p.m. Monday, made contact with air traffic control at 4:38 p.m. and crashed at around 4:43 p.m., according to the Defense Ministry.

Nothing abnormal has been confirmed in the final communication between the chopper and the traffic control, indicating that a problem occurred during the five minutes before the crash.

The helicopter crashed during a test flight after receiving regular maintenance work required every 50 hours of flight and undergoing the replacement of its main rotor head.

Some military and aviation experts point to the possibility that a maintenance flaw may have led to a midair breakup of the main rotor, leaving the chopper out of control.

Local residents who witnessed the incident say that the GSDF helicopter suddenly began to nosedive.

Many parts of the chopper, which was traveling westward, have been recovered within several hundred meters east of the crash site, with apparent rotor blade debris found in a canal about 500 meters away.

The Defense Ministry has grounded all 12 other AH-64Ds and is conducting inspection and maintenance of all SDF helicopters.Speech

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