Eight people have been found alive and are in "good condition" after a U.S. Navy plane with 11 aboard crashed into the sea off Japan on Wednesday, the military said.
The search and rescue for three other personnel continue, the Navy said.
"Our entire focus is on finding all of our sailors," Rear Adm. Marc H. Dalton said in a statement, adding that the Navy "will be relentless in our efforts."
The aircraft is believed to have crashed around 500 nautical miles southeast of Okinawa Island at about 2:45 p.m. local time (12:45 a.m. ET) while on the way to the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier.
Eight of the 11 Navy personnel were rescued some 45 minutes later before being transferred to the ship for medical evaluation. The aircraft carrier, which is in the Philippine Sea, is part of the Japan-based 7th Fleet.
Search and rescue efforts were being conducted by the U.S. Navy and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) ships and aircraft. The names of the crew and passengers were being withheld pending next of kin notification.
The aircraft was taking part in an ongoing U.S.-Japan naval exercise off the coast of Okinawa in which some 14,000 U.S. personnel were participating.
The annual exercise is "designed to increase the defensive readiness and interoperability of Japanese and American forces through training in air and sea operations," a statement on the event said earlier this month.
The plane was conducting a routine transport flight carrying passengers and cargo from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni to USS Ronald Reagan at the time of the crash, according to the Navy.
The aircraft's role included the transport of high-priority cargo, mail, duty passengers and distinguished visitors between USS Ronald Reagan and shore bases throughout the Western Pacific and Southeast Asia, the statement added.
The Navy said the incident would be investigated.
The crash comes at a time when the Navy's 7th fleet and the U.S. Pacific Command have come under increased scrutiny after two deadly collisions in Asian waters this year left 17 sailors dead.
Seven U.S. sailors died when the USS Fitzgerald collided with a container ship off the coast of Japan in June. Two months later in August another navy destroyer, USS John S. McCain, collided with an oil tanker near Singapore, leaving 10 sailors dead.
In the wake of the accidents, eight top Navy officials were removed from their posts, including the 7th Fleet commander. After the second collision, the Navy ordered the entire fleet to take a one-day “operational pause” to ensure that the ships were meeting safety standards.
The Navy said a family assistance center have been set up. Families living on base in Japan can contact 315-243-1728, while families living in the U.S. can call +81-468-16-1728.
by , and