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EDITORIAL | Remember the SDF Peacekeepers Who Died Protecting Japan

Ten SDF peacekeepers who died in the helicopter accident were conducting terrain reconnaissance from the air related to the defense of Japan.



Japan Self-Defense Force personnel transport the bodies retrieved by the submarine rescue ship Chihaya on April 18 at the Miyakojima Sub Base in Miyakojima City, Okinawa Prefecture. (© Kyodo)

Officials have confirmed the recovery of the bodies of several of the victims who died in the Self-Defense Force helicopter accident. The loss of the SDF peacekeepers took place in the waters off Miyakojima island in Okinawa Prefecture

A Mitsubishi UH60-JA utility helicopter belonging to the 8th Division of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) had 10 passengers aboard when it disappeared on the afternoon of April 6. The fuselage of the aircraft was later located submerged on the ocean floor off Miyakojima. It lay at a depth of about 100 meters.

One of the passengers was Lieutenant General Yuichi Sakamoto. He was commander of the 8th Division of the JGSDF. 

The search for more bodies and wreckage continues despite complicated seabed topography and other challenges. Hopefully, the search will continue until the remains of all of the SDF personnel are recovered and returned to their families. 

Sincere Condolences for the Fallen Soldiers

We would like to offer our sincere condolences for the fallen soldiers who died in the line of duty protecting our nation.

The 8th Division is headquartered in Kumamoto City. It has responsibility for the defense of Kumamoto, Miyazaki, and Kagoshima prefectures. 

Furthermore, it is designated as a "mobile division" for duty in the event of an emergency. In this capacity, it could be deployed on short notice to the Nansei Islands. Those are the long line of Japanese islands extending southwest from just off Kyushu to Yonaguni island. Yonaguni is roughly 100 km (62 miles) off the east coast of Taiwan

Sakamoto only took over as division commander on March 30. On the day of the crash, he and his subordinates were conducting terrain reconnaissance from the air related to island defense

This was only one example of the efforts made daily by the Self-Defense Forces to prepare for any contingency and thereby ensure the safety of Japan.

Since the establishment of the National Police Reserve in July 1950, more than 2,000 defense personnel have given their lives while in active service. Once again, we want to thank these keepers of the peace for sacrificing their precious lives for the sake of their fellow citizens. 

SDF peacekeepers
Chihaya, a submarine rescue ship of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, search the waters where the accident occurred. Photographed from Ikema Island, Okinawa Prefecture, on the morning of April 17. (© Kyodo)

Preventing Further Tragedies

The defense ministry and Self-Defense Forces must do all within their power to prevent a repetition of the latest tragedy.

The JGSDF Staff Office has established a committee to investigate the accident. Furthermore, except for missions such as disaster relief and emergency patient transport, training flights using the same type of helicopter as the one involved in the accident have been suspended. That will continue until the completion of additional training and inspections to confirm the safety of the aircraft. 

Steps must also be taken to shed light on the cause of the accident, including recovery of the fuselage section of the aircraft. And measures to prevent the recurrence of such accidents must be implemented.

Unfortunately, social media has been rife with unfounded rumors, including speculation that China's military shot down the plane. There is a total lack of evidence to support such a theory. A thorough investigation of the cause of the accident will also help to discredit such views that are contrary to the facts.

Defending Japan

We must also avoid allowing our deterrence to weaken. The same type of aircraft involved in the accident is used for a variety of missions. Prolonged flight restrictions could hinder national security

Moreover, it is also important to restore the 8th Division's readiness posture in the absence of its top leadership. 

We remain concerned about contingencies related to the Senkaku Islands and Taiwan. In fact, Miyakojima and other islands in the Nansei chain are on the frontline of Japan's defense. Chinese military vessels and warplanes frequently transit the straits between Okinawa Island and Miyakojima or other islands. In addition, they pass through the airspace over them. 

The presence of Self-Defense Forces that can act rapidly and reliably is essential to deter aggression against the Nansei Islands and guarantee their effective defense in the event of an emergency.

We look to the SDF to move past this tragedy and continue to protect the nation's people.


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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