Riverside Air Force Major Among Eight Lost in Japan Osprey Crash, Calls for Safety Review Intensify

Riverside Air Force Major Among Eight Lost in Japan Osprey Crash, Calls for Safety Review IntensifySource: Japan Coast Guard
Gabriela Martinez
Published on December 05, 2023

An Air Force major from Riverside, California, was among the eight crew members who tragically perished in a military Osprey aircraft crash off the coast of Japan last week. Major Luke A. Unrath, 34, served as a CV-22 pilot and flight commander with the 21st Special Operations Squadron of the 353rd Special Operations Wing, based at Yokota Air Base in Japan. The incident, which took place on November 29 during a training mission, sparked fresh concerns over the safety of these hybrid aircraft.

The Air Force disclosed on Monday that the remains of six out of the eight crew members had been found; three have so far been recovered. Sadly, the likelihood of survival for the two missing crew members is deemed slim, with search operations to find their remains still underway, as reported by KTLA. In response to the crash, Lt. Gen. Tony Bauernfeind, head of Air Force Special Operations Command, expressed a profound collective heartache. "The depth of sorrow is immeasurable," he stated, "The honorable service of these eight airmen to this great nation will never be forgotten, as they are now among the giants who shape our history."

Osprey aircraft, which are unique in their capability to execute vertical takeoffs and landings as well as faster horizontal flight, have had a series of accidents, especially in Japan, where both U.S. and Japanese forces operate them. This latest crash off Japan's coast has once again thrown a spotlight on their operational safety. The Osprey's design enables the aircraft to transition from a helicopter-like mode to that of an airplane by tilting its rotors forward once airborne, as NBC Los Angeles notes.

In the wake of the tragedy, the Japanese government suspended all flights of its 14 Ospreys and has pressed the U.S. military to guarantee the aircraft’s safety before operations can resume. Despite this, the Pentagon asserts that no formal request for such reassurance has been lodged and that the U.S. military continues to fly the 24 MV-22s, a Marine variant of the Osprey, which is deployed on the island of Okinawa. The debris from the accident has been recovered by Japan’s coast guard and local fishermen and has since been handed over to the U.S. military for further analysis.