TOKYO, May 16 (Xinhua) -- Japan's defense ministry confirmed Tuesday that all four male crew members on board a Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) aircraft that crashed a day earlier in a mountainous region of Hokkaido in northern Japan were dead.
Wreckage of the plane was discovered earlier Tuesday by search and rescue officials and debris from the plane was scattered over a wide area of land about three km from the peak of Mt. Hakamagoshi in the city of Hokuto in Hokkaido.
Bodies of the crew members had been transferred by helicopter to an SDF base in Hakodate before the death was officially announced.
The LR-2 reconnaissance plane took off in poor weather from Okadama Airport in Sapporo City at about 11:25 a.m. on Monday and was heading for Hakodate Airport to pick up a patient, a doctor and other personnel there.
The plane lost communications with air traffic controllers about 20 minutes later and was last seen flying at an altitude of 900 meters, preparing to make an instrument landing due to low visibility, according to the defense ministry.
The four male crew members on board the plane when it crashed were a pilot, a backup pilot and two mechanics, said the ministry.
GSDF officials and firefighters are looking into the cause of the accident and had initially deployed around 1,800 people including the SDF, police and fire and rescue workers to continue searching for the aircraft on Tuesday.
Search efforts, however, had been hampered by poor weather, including rain and fog.
Pieces of wreckage believed to be from the fuselage of the plane that went missing a day earlier were initially found by search and rescue officials at 10:14 a.m. local time in a mountainous area near Hokuto City.
This led police, firefighters and SDF personnel to begin intensively searching the vicinity where the wreckage was found as this was believed to be near the crash site.
Wreckage of the plane had been shattered into small pieces, according to local accounts, making it difficult to identify specific parts of the plane, including the overall air frame.
Japan's Meteorological Agency had said there were light rain and cloud and a low atmospheric pressure in the area when the plane went missing.
The LR-2 is a U.S.-made twin-engine turboprop plane with a 10-person capacity. A stretcher for transporting emergency patients is installed in the aircraft, and the plane is also used for reconnaissance missions by the GSDF.
There had been no reports of abnormalities or problems following recent checkups, according to the defense ministry.
Japan currently has eight LR-2s in operation, local media reported.