TOKYO — The U.S. Navy called off its search for three sailors missing since Wednesday, when a transport plane crashed in the Pacific Ocean on its way to the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier.
Eight people were rescued and are in good condition, but the remaining three sailors had not been found after two days of searching, the Navy’s 7th Fleet, which is based in Yokosuka, south of Tokyo, said in a statement Friday.
The Reagan had been leading the search effort, joined by eight U.S. Navy and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ships, three helicopter squadrons and maritime patrol aircraft.
They had covered nearly 1,000 square nautical miles in the search for the sailors, who had been missing since the C-2A Greyhound crashed about halfway between Okinawa and Guam on Wednesday afternoon.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with our lost shipmates and their families,” said Rear Adm. Marc Dalton, Commander of Task Force 70. “As difficult as this is, we are thankful for the rapid and effective response that led to the rescue of eight of our shipmates.”
The names of the sailors have not been released as their families are still being informed.
The C-2A, a twin-engine cargo plane designed to transport people and supplies to and from aircraft carriers, was on a routine flight from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in southern Japan to the Reagan, which was in the Philippine Sea for exercises.
The cause of the crash was not immediately known and an investigation is being conducted.
This is the first time since 1973 that a Navy C2-A has been involved in a fatal crash. Then, seven people were killed when both of the aircraft’s engines failed shortly after take off from Chania-Souda airport in Greece.
This crash comes at the end of a bad year for the 7th Fleet, which had already lost 17 sailors in two separate collisions involving guided-missile destroyers.
Ten sailors were killed when the USS John S. McCain collided with an oil tanker near Singapore in August, and seven died when the USS Fitzgerald ran into a much heavier container ship off the coast of Japan in June.
The Navy removed the admiral in charge from his position in August, citing a “loss of confidence” in his ability to lead, and the Navy’s top admiral ordered a fleetwide review of seamanship and training in the Pacific after the McCain collision.
The Fitzgerald, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, left Yokosuka Friday, headed to Pascagoula, Mississippi, for repairs. The Fitzgerald was towed to deep water and over the next few days will be lifted onto the heavy lift transport vessel Transshelf to be moved to the Huntington Ingalls Industries shipbuilding facility in Mississippi for repairs and upgrades.
The McCain and Fitzgerald incidents followed a collision between another guided-missile cruiser, the USS Lake Champlain, and a South Korean fishing vessel, and an embarrassing incident when the guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam ran aground in Tokyo Bay in January.
Just last week, the USS Benfold, a guided-missile destroyer, was scraped by a Japanese tug during a towing exercise. The destroyer suffered minimal damage.
The 7th Fleet has about 50 to 70 ships assigned to it and is responsible for an area that spans 36 maritime countries and 48 million square miles in the Pacific and Indian oceans, according to the Navy.