A Bell Boeing CV-22B Osprey tiltrotor operated by the US Air Force (USAF) crashed off the coast of Japan on 29 November, with at least one fatality confirmed.

An unconfirmed number of crew remain missing, with reported numbers ranging from five to eight.

The incident took place near Yakushima Island in southern Japan, some 50 miles (80km) south of the island of Kyushu. Japanese and US military forces are currently engaged in regularly scheduled military drills.

MV-22 Osprey

Source: US Marine Corps

The latest incident follows a series of fatal V-22 crashes in recent years that have prompted multiple groundings and safety reviews

The Japan coast guard is responding to the crash and confirms that one deceased crew member was recovered. The service released a photo of what is believed to be the partially submerged wreckage of the V-22.

The USAF confirms one of its CV-22Bs was involved but has not confirmed casualties.

“A United States Air Force CV-22B Osprey from Yokota Air Base, Japan, assigned to the 353rd Special Operations Wing, was involved in an aircraft mishap while performing a routine training mission off the shore of Yakushima Island, Japan with eight Airmen on board,” says the USAF Special Operations Command. The condition of the crew are “unknown at this time”.

“Emergency personnel are on scene conducting search and rescue operations. The cause of the mishap is currently unknown,” the USAF adds.

Conflicting reports had previously emerged regarding the operator of the aircraft. V-22s are operated by the US Marine Corps (USMC), US Navy and USAF, and Japan’s armed forces.

Japanese vice-defence minister Hiroyuki Miyazawa said the incident involved a USAF CV-22 Osprey from Yokota air base, a facility jointly hosting US and Japanese forces.

“The US side explained to us that the pilot did his best until the very end, so we’re using the term ‘emergency water landing’,” Miyazawa told Japanese media on 29 November, according to reporting from NBC News.

Japan osprey crash

Source: Japan Coast Guard

The Japanese coast guard has recovered one deceased crew member from the crashed Osprey and released a photo of debris it believes came from the tiltrotor

The USMC confirmed to FlightGlobal on 29 November that the incident did not involve one of its MV-22 aircraft, two squadrons of which are permanently stationed on the Japanese island prefecture of Okinawa. 

The marine corps is directing all inquiries on the matter to USAF special operations command, which controls the air force’s CV-22 fleet. 

The incident in Japan follows a series of fatal Osprey crashes in recent years.

In August, a USMC MV-22 crashed near Darwin, Australia, killing three American personnel and prompting the service to order an aviation safety review.

Multiple USMC Ospreys went down in 2022, including a crash in Norway that killed four marines and a fatal crash in Southern California that killed five.

The Pentagon in February grounded Ospreys across all three US operators, citing ongoing issues with the complex aircraft’s clutch system.

Between 1991 and 2022, V-22s suffered 36 accidents, according to the Aviation Safety Network, a service of US nonprofit Flight Safety Foundation.

Most of those incidents occurred during the early years of development and fielding of the complex tiltrotor, is the first operational aircraft of its kind.

Bell, Boeing and the Pentagon have repeatedly insisted Ospreys are safe, citing a large fleet and high flight-hour count.

Story updated on 29 October 2023 to include the USAF’s confirmation that one of its VC-22Bs crashed.

This developing story will be updated as details emerge.