An air and sea search has been launched off the coast of Japan for seven US Marine aircrew after a F/A-18D Hornet fighter and a KC-130 Hercules tanker collided during a refuelling manoeuvre. Both aircraft crashed into the sea about 300km out from their base at Iwakuni. The incident happened about 2am local time (4am AEDT). U.S. 7th Fleet is supporting ongoing search and rescue efforts with a Navy P-8A Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft flying out of Kadena Air Force Base, along with assistance from the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and the Japanese Coast Guard.
Japan’s Defense Ministry said its maritime forces had found two Marines, both of whom have been transferred to the U.S. military to receive medical care. It has dispatched planes and ships to continue the search and rescue effort. The KC-130 had five crew aboard and the F-18 two, according to the Marine Corps. Five crew members are still missing. The first Marine was found soon after the incident and taken back to his base at the Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in southern Japan, where he was receiving medical care and is in a stable condition
The Marine Corps initially said a “mishap” had taken place at 2 a.m. local time during an exercise about 200 miles off the Japanese coast, involving a F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet and a KC-130 Hercules. Few details are available, but the difficult refuelling manoeuvre would have been complicated by being conducted at night and any weather events at the time. The smaller fighter approaches from the rear of the Hercules which has a fuel line trailing behind. An extendible nozzel then ‘plugs-in’ to allow fuel to flow.
Marine Aircraft Group 12 (MAG-12) is stationed at MCAS Iwakuni and comprises Hornet squadron Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 242 (VMFA-242) and KC-130J squadron Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152 (VMGR-152), as well as F-35B Joint Strike Fighter squadron Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121), Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 12 (MALS-12) and aviation ground support unit Marine Wing Support Squadron 171 (MWSS-171).