TOKYO – Japanese authorities confirmed on Saturday the death of nine occupants of a helicopter that crashed in a forested region in central Japan.
The accident occurred on Friday in a mountainous area of Gunma prefecture, northwest of Tokyo and the helicopter was carrying nine people, most of them members of an emergency unit in Gunma, according to public broadcaster NHK.
In the Bell 412EP helicopter, five firefighters and two other members were traveling with Gunma’s emergency unit, in addition to the pilot and the mechanic of the aircraft.
All of them were part of a team that was checking a hiking route that runs between the prefectures of Gunma, Nagano and Niigata.
At first it was reported that the helicopter crashed due to bad weather conditions in the area, but, according to NHK, in April the aircraft had engine problems and was on the ground for two months for repairs.
NHK further reported that the helicopter disappeared from the radar for three minutes after it made an abrupt turn in its route.
The aircraft that was offering services in Gunma had been in operation since 1997 accumulating 7,000 hours of flight.
In March of last year, a helicopter of the same model also used for rescue work in central Japan, crashed and nine people lost their lives.
In turn, another helicopter owned by Toho Air, which also operated the crashed aircraft on Friday, suffered an accident last November near the town of Ueno, in Gunma, causing four fatalities.