The U.S. Air Force said on Tuesday that all eight of the airmen aboard the CV-22 Osprey that crashed in waters off southern Japan last week were believed to have been killed, and that the military was now focused on recovering their remains and debris from the aircraft.
“The honorable service of these eight airmen to this great nation will never be forgotten,” Lt. Gen. Tony Bauernfeind of Air Force Special Operations Command said in a statement.
The bodies of three of the airmen have been recovered, and those of three others have been located, according to the Air Force, which released the names of all eight airmen. It said the rescue operation that began after the Nov. 29 crash, involving both American and Japanese personnel, was now a recovery operation. Two bodies have yet to be found.
The Osprey crashed near the small island of Yakushima during a routine training exercise, the Air Force said. The body of one airman, Staff Sgt. Jacob M. Galliher, 24, was found by the Japanese Coast Guard later that day.
The other airmen believed to have been killed are Maj. Jeffrey T. Hoernemann, 32; Maj. Eric V. Spendlove, 36; Maj. Luke A. Unrath, 34; Capt. Terrell K. Brayman, 32; Tech. Sgt. Zachary E. Lavoy, 33; Staff Sgt. Jake M. Turnage, 25; and Senior Airman Brian K. Johnson, 32, the Air Force said. All were based at either Yokota Air Base or Kadena Air Base in Japan.
It is not clear what caused the crash, which is being investigated by the military. It came just three months after three American Marines died in an Osprey crash in Australia, also during a training exercise.
Ospreys are complex aircraft, with rotor blades above extended wings, that can take off and land vertically and also glide like a fixed-wing aircraft. More than 50 deaths have been linked to Osprey accidents since the Marines began using the craft in the early 1990s. The United States temporarily grounded its Osprey fleet in Japan after one of the craft crashed off the southern island of Okinawa in 2016.
Japan’s prime minister, Fumio Kishida, sent a letter to President Biden on Wednesday expressing “heartfelt gratitude to the members of the U.S. Forces Japan who carry out missions day and night, far away from their hometowns and families.”
Mr. Biden said in a statement on Tuesday that he and the first lady were “heartbroken” by the deaths, calling service members and their families the “backbone of our nation.”
“We owe them everything,” Mr. Biden added.