Air Force ends effort to recover final member of downed Osprey’s crew

by Tommy Grant

The Air Force said Thursday it has called off a weekslong search effort that failed to recover the remains of the eighth and final special operations airman killed in a CV-22 Osprey crash late last year.

In the six weeks since the tiltrotor Osprey went down in the sea off southern Japan during a Nov. 29 training mission, killing all onboard, a multinational search party comprised of more than 1,000 personnel, 46 aircraft, 23 maritime vessels and 21 unmanned aerial and underwater drones scoured more than 60,000 square kilometers of the ocean’s surface and 29 square kilometers of ocean floor, the Air Force said.

The around-the-clock hunt successfully recovered the bodies of seven members of the Japan-based Osprey’s crew and most of the aircraft’s fuselage. But despite their extensive resources, the search team proved unable to secure the remains of Maj. Eric “Doc” Spendlove, a flight surgeon and medical operations flight commander at Kadena Air Base’s 1st Special Operations Squadron.

“While it is with tremendous deep regret that we were unable to find our last teammate, Maj. Eric Spendlove, the combined joint efforts of our Japanese allies and U.S. military forces has been inspiring to see the lengths our forces will go in order to attempt to bring a teammate home,” said Rear Adm. Jeromy Williams, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command Pacific.

“After over a month of exhausting air, surface, sub-surface and modeling and simulation assets, we have ruled out all identified possible options to recover our teammate,” he added. “Our thoughts remain with the families and squadron mates of our CV-22 aircrew and we extend our sincerest gratitude to every asset who assisted in the search.”

The Air Force is investigating what caused the wreck and has said that a system malfunction is likely to blame. The accident marks the deadliest Air Force mishap since 2018.

The crash is the latest in a deadly string of Osprey incidents that have killed twenty U.S. troops since March 2022, prompting the military to indefinitely ground its entire fleet of hundreds of V-22 aircraft across the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. It has also spurred investigations by the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability and the Government Accountability Office.

“The efforts of the joint force and our Japanese allies since Nov. 29 have been exceptional,” Air Force Special Operations Command boss Lt. Gen. Tony Bauernfeind said. “As we move forward, we remain focused on supporting the families and air commandos impacted by the loss of ‘GUNDAM 22,’ as well as completing the ongoing investigations to prevent future mishaps.”

Courtney Mabeus-Brown is the senior reporter at Air Force Times. She is an award-winning journalist who previously covered the military for Navy Times and The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., where she first set foot on an aircraft carrier. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Foreign Policy and more.

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