Search expanded for three sailors missing after US plane crashes in Pacific Ocean

Tom Powell
Rescuers plucked eight people to safety after the crash to the south of Japan: AFP/Getty Images

A major search operation to find three sailors missing after a US Navy plane crashed in the Pacific Ocean was widened today.

Eight of the 11 people on board were rescued about 40 minutes after the crash involving the C-2 "Greyhound" transport aircraft on Wednesday afternoon.

The twin-propeller plane came down about 500 nautical miles southeast of the Japanese island of Okinawa, as it was bringing passengers and cargo from Japan to the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier.

The cause was not clear but will be investigated, the US navy said.

The plane was carrying supplies to the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier (AP)

The Reagan was participating in a joint US-Japan naval exercise when the plane crashed.

The aircraft carrier was leading the search in the Philippine Sea on Thursday, along with Japan's naval forces. The ships and aircraft had searched more than 320 nautical miles as of Thursday morning, the navy said.

President Donald Trump said in a tweet: "We are monitoring the situation. Prayers for all involved."

The navy said it had notified next of kin that the three sailors were "whereabouts unknown" but that it would delay releasing their identities publicly for three days due to policy.

The aircraft came down in the Philippine Sea (AFP/Getty Images)

The 7th Fleet has had two fatal accidents in Asian waters this year, leaving 17 sailors dead and prompting the removal of eight top navy officers from their posts, including the 7th Fleet commander.

The USS John S McCain and an oil tanker collided near Singapore in August, leaving 10 US sailors dead. Seven sailors died in June when the USS Fitzgerald and a container ship collided off Japan.

The navy has concluded that the collisions were avoidable and resulted from widespread failures by the crews and commanders, who did not quickly recognise and respond to unfolding emergencies.

A navy report recommended numerous changes to address the problems, ranging from improved training to increasing sleep and stress management for sailors.

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