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8 Rescued, 3 Missing After U.S. Navy Aircraft Crash


Eight sailors were rescued today after a U.S. Navy cargo plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean. There are still three people missing, and that search goes on. This is the latest accident for the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman has been following the developments and joins us now. Hi, Tom.


SHAPIRO: What else can you tell us about this latest accident in the Pacific?

BOWMAN: Well, we're talking about a small, two-propeller plane called a Greyhound. It was taking Navy personnel and some cargo to the carrier Ronald Reagan from a base in Japan. And a few hundred miles off Okinawa, the plane crashed into the water. And again, eight of those onboard were recovered fairly quickly, in about 45 minutes. The search is underway for the remaining three.

Now, there's no sense at this point what caused the crash, but the Japanese defense minister told reporters that he heard from an American source that it was engine trouble. But U.S. officials really aren't saying anything yet. But the fact that eight were recovered in good condition tells you obviously the plane didn't explode in the sky or drill itself into the water. But again, we're still waiting for the cause. Now, this aircraft, by the way, is very reliable and tough. It's been a workhorse for decades and really has had a few problems.

SHAPIRO: Let's talk about what's going on with the 7th Fleet because there have been several serious accidents this year.

BOWMAN: Yeah, right. Well, again, in this case, we don't know the cause of the crash with the aircraft, whether it was mechanical or human error. What we do know is it was human error in the case of two deadly destroyer collisions this year, the McCain and the Fitzgerald. The two crashes left 17 sailors dead. So there appears to have been training problems with the crews of the ship - Navy officials say problems with navigation skills, steering as well. And the ships' accidents led to the relief of some high-ranking admirals. Now, there are - we don't know if there are problems here with training or maintenance, let's say, at this point. It could, again, just be simple engine trouble and not some sort of a wider training issue.

SHAPIRO: When you look at this broader pattern, you said some individuals have lost their jobs. Is there anything broader that the Navy is doing to address the problem?

BOWMAN: Well, the Navy says, listen; we have a lot of operations in the Pacific - too few ships, overworked crews. That's a factor with the ships. It could be a factor with the aircraft as well - maybe overworked crews there as well. What the Navy is doing is sending out inspection teams to make sure everybody's skills are where they should be. But we haven't heard back on the results of those inspection teams quite yet.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman covering this latest crash with the 7th Fleet. Thanks very much.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.