A mechanical problem may have caused a Japanese destroyer, aiming at a target being towed by a U.S. attack bomber, to instead shoot the plane out of the sky during war games, a Japanese navy official said.
The two U.S. Navy aviators aboard the aircraft ejected and were rescued by the Japanese vessel Yuugiri, which had shot them down with a burst of bullets fired from its American-made anti-missile system.
Japan quickly apologized for the accident in the Pacific Ocean, which happened at 7:15 p.m. HST Monday (10:15 p.m. PDT) some 1,600 miles west of Hawaii.
The pilot, Lt. Cmdr. William Royster of Kansas City, Mo., and bombardier-navigator, Lt. Keith Douglas of Birmingham, Ala., were picked out of the ocean by the Yuugiri minutes after their A-6E Intruder hit the water, then returned to their own ship, the aircraft carrier USS Independence.
Royster was in good condition after surgery for facial lacerations, while Douglas was treated for superficial abrasions and returned to duty, according to Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Alderson, a U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesman.
“It’s a unique and unfortunate accident, but it’s not a tragedy because we recovered both crew members in good condition,” said Capt. Steve Clawson, another Pacific Fleet spokesman.
The 450-foot Yuugiri, which carries a crew of about 200, was using a Phalanx gun system capable of firing bursts of 3,000 rounds of 20mm ammunition per minute, said Tensuke Kobayashi, a Japanese navy official. The Phalanx is designed for defense against incoming anti-ship missiles, such as the Exocet.
Kobayashi said the accident may have been caused by mechanical trouble in the Phalanx weapons system, which was made by General Dynamics in Pomona, Calif. “Apparently the missiles were launched when they weren’t meant to be,” he said, referring to the bullets.