TOKYO/YUZHNO-SAKHALINSK (Sputnik) — The aircraft with a group of Japanese citizens, who traveled to the Kuril Islands on the first ever charter flight, made an emergency landing in Russia's Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, the airport's spokesperson told Sputnik Saturday.
The charter flight from the Japanese city of Nakashibetsu bound for the Kuril Islands landed in Kunashir early on Saturday. It brought 68 foreign nationals, a half of that number was later taken to Iturup. The aircraft was due to return to Japan late on Saturday.
"The aircraft with Japanese citizens, who were on their transit flight to Kunashir, landed at an alternate airfield in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk," the spokesperson said.
The representative of the Japanese Foreign Ministry told Sputnik that the emergency landing was caused by bad weather conditions.
"The group left for Kunashir in the morning, a part of it headed for Iturup. It was planned that they would return to Kunashir by the end of the day, and then would go back to Hokkaido together. However, due to the weather conditions, a part of the group, which was on Iturup, was not able to return to Kunashir and landed in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. Therefore, one part of the group, which traveled from Hokkaido, is currently in Kunashir, while the other half is in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk," the ministry's representative said.
The diplomat noted that the delegation would return to Kunashir and Hokkaido on Sunday.
The plane carried the islands’ former residents and their relatives who wished to visit ancestral graves in the land that the then Soviet Union received from defeated Japan after World War II. The first flight was scheduled to take place on June 18, but was delayed due to a heavy fog.
Japan lays claims to Kunashir, Iturup, Shikotan and the Habomai group of islets, which it refers to as its Northern Territories. The row over their ownership has prevented the two nations from signing a post-war peace treaty. Tokyo and Moscow agreed on bilateral visa waivers for Russian island residents and the Japanese in 1992 as a step toward the agreement, but all travel has been by sea.