TOKYO — A U.S. Marine helicopter slammed into a fog-shrouded hillside in southern Japan on Saturday, killing all seven Marines aboard, military officials said.
The CH-53D Sea Stallion crashed about 10:20 a.m. as it was crossing the southwest tip of Shikoku Island in southern Japan just one mile from a nuclear power plant. The crash occurred shortly after Typhoon Thad swept over the area.
"Marine Corp officials have confirmed seven people are dead, and names are being withheld pending notification of next of kin," a Marine spokeswoman said.
Cloudy skies and dense fog were reported in the area at the time of the crash, but U.S. military investigators after searching the twisted debris were unable to immediately determine a cause, police said.
The CH-53D, considered a "workhorse" helicopter, is used to transport both cargo and troops. Both it and its heavy-cargo sister craft, the CH-53E, have been the subject of controversy as the result of numerous accidents since 1980. At least 68 servicemen have died in crashes involving the CH-53D since 1984.
Meteorologists said visibility at the time of Saturday's crash was 50 to 60 yards because of heavy fog, and news reports said the helicopter was flying low. Police said the crew sent no distress calls.
The bodies were returned to the Marine Corps Air Station at Iwakuni, 25 miles west of Hiroshima, where the helicopter left at 9:50 a.m. "on a routine flight" to its home base at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa, a Marine spokesman said.
Typhoon Thad, which turned into a tropical depression about an hour before the helicopter crash, unleashed a downpour Friday and Saturday that killed four people and injured 16, officials said.
The CH-53D, a single-rotor, twin-engine aircraft, has had a series of fatal crashes:
-- In March, 1984, a CH-53D slammed into a mountain in South Korea, killing 19 U.S. Marines and 11 South Korean servicemen.
-- In May, 1985, a CH-53D that, like the one involved in Saturday's crash, was headed for the Marine base at Futenma crashed into the ocean off Japan's southern coast, killing all 17 Marines aboard.
-- In July, 1985, a CH-53D crashed off the Japanese island of Okinawa, killing four Marines.