Navy Orions likely damaged in hangar collapse
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — The condition of several U.S. Navy and Japan Self-Defense Force surveillance planes is still unknown after heavy snow caused the roof of a hangar to collapse Saturday near Naval Air Facility Atsugi, according to U.S. and Japanese officials.
No injuries were reported in the collapse, but there is extensive damage to the building, and the 10 aircraft parked inside appear damaged as well.
“Although the immediate damage to the hangar appears extensive, the possible damage to aircraft is not currently known,” Atsugi base spokesman Greg Kuntz said.
The condition of the hangar has slowed assessment of condition of the aircraft, which include four U.S. P-3 Orions, officials said. However, the tail sections of several aircraft poking through the collapsed roof can be seen in aerial photographs.
The 550-foot-long hangar — built in 1955 and owned by NIPPI Corp., a Kawasaki Heavy Industries Group subsidiary — is used to repair Japanese Self-Defense Forces and U.S. Navy aircraft.
The central part of the hangar collapsed because of the weight of the snow, said Kawasaki Heavy Industries spokesman Teppei Kobayashi.
NIPPI Corp is working on cleaning up the debris.
The collapse “has not affected operations at this point, but it is important to assess the situation quickly when thinking about the future,” Japan’s Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said at a Tuesday news conference. Onodera said the damage to the aircraft appears to be severe.
The P-3 Orion has patrolled the Pacific theater on anti-submarine and surveillance missions since its introduction in the 1960s. Each four-engine turboprop aircraft costs $36 million, according to the U.S. Navy, which is slowly phasing out the P-3 in favor of the new P-8 Poseidon aircraft.
The P-8 planes, which have upgraded airframes and avionics, began arriving at U.S. bases in Japan in December.
The record snowfall also impacted operations on other U.S. bases in and around Tokyo, with many facilities closed at the weekend.
Staff Sgt. Eryn Buckner, of the 374th Operations Squadron, said 21 inches of snow fell on Yokota Air Base last week. So far, 35 inches of snow have fallen on the base this month, almost double the most recorded in February since the squadron began keeping records in 1973.
More snow is expected this week.