Photo/IllutrationThe U.S. Marines’ FA-18 fighter jet, front, at the Komatsu Air Base in Ishikawa Prefecture (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

Two U.S. crew members were rescued but five others remain missing after a fighter jet and a refueling aircraft collided off the coast of Kochi Prefecture around 1:40 a.m. on Dec. 6.

The Self-Defense Forces are continuing their search in the Pacific Ocean about 100 kilometers south-southeast of Cape Muroto in Kochi Prefecture on the main island of Shikoku, according to the Defense Ministry.

The FA-18 fighter jet and the KC-130 aerial refueling aircraft were both stationed at the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture.

“It is possible that they were conducting aerial refueling training at night, which is very challenging,” a Defense Ministry official said.

The U.S. Marines said in a statement that the cause of the accident is “under investigation.”

It added, “We appreciate the SDF’s search effort.”

According to the Defense Ministry, the fighter jet was carrying two crew members while five Marines were aboard the refueling aircraft.

Under a request from the 5th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters in Kobe, the SDF dispatched 10 aircraft and three ships in response to the emergency.

A crew member of the FA-18 was retrieved from the water by a Maritime SDF helicopter around 5:40 a.m. and taken to the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni around 8 a.m. The rescued member was listed in stable condition.

Around noon, an MSDF ship rescued another U.S. crew member, but the condition is unknown, according to the ministry.

No damage was reported on private vessels from the midair crash.

The collision was the latest in a long series of accidents and other problems involving U.S. military aircraft in Japan.

“It is regrettable, but we must first put all of our efforts into rescuing the crew members,” Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya told reporters on Dec. 6.

He said he will ask the U.S. military to provide information and take appropriate measures when the details are known.

On June 11, an F-15 fighter jet from the U.S. Kadena Air Base on the main island of Okinawa Prefecture crashed in waters about 120 kilometers off Naha, the capital of the prefecture.

An FA-18 fighter jet, deployed to the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier stationed at the Yokosuka Naval Base in Kanagawa Prefecture, experienced engine trouble and crashed in the sea about 290 kilometers off Naha on Nov. 12.

The FA-18 fighter jet in March was transferred from the Atsugi Air Base in Kanagawa Prefecture to the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni. Residents in Yamaguchi Prefecture demanded a halt to FA-18 flights over concerns of safety and other issues.

In December 2016, FA-18 Super Hornet fighter jets from the Iwakuni air station crashed during training in waters off Cape Ashizuri on the western side of Kochi Prefecture.