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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Plane Crashes Into Sea Near Sakhalin

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 Far East coast, emergency officials said.

Russian rescue services launched an air and sea search of the area for survivors, said Anatoly Rogachev, head of the Emergency Situations Ministry's rescue coordinating center in Vladivostok.

He said two helicopters, six ships and a plane searched through the day Sunday for survivors in the Sea of Okhotsk off Sakhalin Island.

The air search was later called off because of darkness, Itar-Tass reported.

Japanese officials said the aircraft was a single-engine, U.S.-registered PC-12. It took off Sunday morning from the town of Hakodate on Japan's northernmost island of Hokkaido and headed for Alaska with a stopover in Magadan in the Far East.

Radar contact with the aircraft was lost as it crossed over the Sea of Okhotsk on Sunday morning, Rogachev said.

Masafumi Machida, an official of the Transport Ministry at Hakodate airport, identified the Japanese passengers as Arinori Yamagata, 52, Katsuyoshi Ida, 42, and Haruko Kikukawa, 28. The American pilot was identified as Mike Smith, the ministry official said. His home town and age were not immediately known.

The aircraft belongs to the U.S. firm 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 400 kilometers northeast of Cape Soya on Hokkaido. It dispatched three patrol boats to look for the aircraft, but they were not expected to arrive at its last reported position until Monday.

Rogachev said the search for survivors was hampered by poor visibility in the area. The weather was worsening in the search area and waves were rising to 2 meters, the rescue center reported.

As darkness fell, a Russian border guard An-72 search aircraft returned to its base on the Sakhalin Peninsula. No traces of the missing aircraft were sighted, the guards' press service told Itar-Tass.