Police find body believed to be pilot’s in SDF chopper crash

Police on Tuesday found a body believed to be that of the pilot of a Ground Self-Defense Force helicopter that crashed into a home in southwestern Japan a day earlier, as Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said the aircraft was on a test flight after having its main rotor replaced.

Two crew members were aboard the AH-64D attack helicopter involved in the accident, which also killed the co-pilot and left an 11-year-old girl slightly injured when she fled the home in Kanzaki, Saga Prefecture.

MSgt. Hiroki Takayama, the 26-year-old co-pilot, was confirmed dead Monday and local police had been searching for the remains of Lt Col Kenichi Saito, the 43-year-old pilot. The police and the GSDF said a body, likely Saito’s, was found beneath the crashed helicopter Tuesday morning.

Onodera told reporters that prior to the flight the helicopter had its main rotor head, which connects the four rotor blades, replaced in addition to it undergoing a regular 50-hour inspection.

The main rotor heads of AH-64D helicopters need to be replaced after 1,750 hours of flight time, according to Onodera.

The helicopter is believed to have nose-dived after its main rotor became detached in midair, with some residents living nearby saying they witnessed the moment it happened.

Asked if the main rotor head replacement had any link with the accident, the defense minister only said that authorities are “looking into the cause.”

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