Update: One Marine has been recovered alive but a second unfortunately perished. Five Marines are still missing and search-and-rescue operations are still underway.
A search is underway for the crews of two U.S. Marine Corps aircraft involved in an aerial crash near Japan at 2 a.m. on December 6 during aerial refueling operations.
Japanese aircraft are assisting the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps in the search which, according to reporting from USNI News and CBS, involved a two-seater F/A-18D Hornet and a KC-130J tanker. The Hornet had two crew onboard and the tanker had five crew members, according to CBS.JMSDF – MCAS Iwakuni Friendship Day 2018
The Marine Corps released a statement after the incident:
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP BUTLER, Okinawa, Japan – Search and rescue operations continue for U.S. Marine aircraft that were involved in a mishap off of the coast of Japan around 2:00 a.m. Dec. 6.
The aircraft involved in the mishap had launched from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni and were conducting regularly scheduled training when the mishap occurred.
Japanese search and rescue aircraft immediately responded to aid in recovery.
The circumstances of the mishap are currently under investigation. There is no additional information available at this time.
The local time of 2 a.m. in Japan translated to approximately noon EST.
Aerial refueling is, naturally, a hazardous activity but the U.S. military practices this capability regularly as safe aerial refueling is a major combat multiplier, allowing strike pilots to extend their range and patrol times. This is especially true for the Navy and Marine Corps as their planes are often launched from carriers or amphibious assault ships where launch weight is a major factor.
Reducing launch weight can mean a reduction in either fuel or weapons load, but this can be countered by launching with limited fuel and then topping off in flight from a tanker like the KC-130J.
Update: One Marine has been rescued, 2nd Lt. Alyssa J. Morales, a spokeswoman for the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, told Task Purpose.
Update 2: The Japanese Self-Defense Forces has a second Marine who unfortunately perished in the crash. The Marine rescued earlier is now reportedly in stable condition. An earlier version of this update erroneously said that the second Marine had been recovered alive.