MOSCOW (AP) _ A private plane flying from Japan to Alaska with four people aboard _ an American pilot and three Japanese passengers _ crashed into the sea Sunday off the Russian Far East, emergency officials said.
Russian rescue services launched a search of the area for survivors, said Anatoly Rogachev, head of the Emergency Situations Ministry rescue coordinating center in Vladivostok. He said two helicopters, six ships and a plane were involved in the effort in the Sea of Okhotsk off Sakhalin Island.
The single-engine PC-12 carrying the American and three Japanese had taken off from Hakodate on Japan's northernmost island of Hokkaido on Sunday morning for Magadan in the Russian Far East, said Masafumi Machida, a Japanese Transport Ministry official.
The American pilot was identified as Mike Smith; his hometown and age were not immediately known. Machida identified the Japanese passengers as Arinori Yamagata, 52, Katsuyoshi Ida, 42 and Haruko Kikukawa, 28.
The aircraft belongs to Access Air Co., based in Boise, Idaho, and was chartered by its Japanese passengers for a round-the-world tour, said Noriko Hatanaka, an official with AOPA Japan, a pilots' association in Tokyo.
Japan's Coast Guard reported that the plane sent a distress signal from waters about 240 miles northeast of Cape Soya on Hokkaido. It dispatched three patrol boats to look for the aircraft, but they were not expected to arrive there until Monday.
Rogachev said the search for survivors was hampered by poor visibility and rough waves in the area.