WASHINGTON – The U.S. Defense Department has issued Japan with a report concluding that the fatal crash of an MV-22 Osprey in Morocco in April was caused by pilot error, Hideo Jinpu, parliamentary secretary of the Defense Ministry, told reporters in Washington.
Following a meeting Wednesday on the conclusions of the crash investigation, the Pentagon told a press briefing the pilot apparently deviated from the tilt-rotor aircraft’s operating manual and that the findings did not point to any abnormalities in the MV-22 in question, Jinpu said.
Jinpu said the pilot made a 180-degree turn downwind after takeoff and subsequently lost lift about 50 meters off the ground as the engine nacelles were rotated forward for level flight, causing the plane to pitch downward and crash. Such low-level maneuvers are restricted by the U.S. military.
The report was presented to Japanese government officials Wednesday and Jinpu said he believes it will take about a week for a team of officials to assess its conclusions. They include a group in charge of Japans’ own analysis of the Osprey’s safety now with Jinpu in the U.S.
Ahead of the meeting at the Pentagon, the team took a test ride Tuesday in an Osprey simulator at Marine Corps Air Station New River in North Carolina.
Despite heightened safety concerns in Japan, the U.S. military plans to begin full operations of MV-22s at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa in early October.
In talks at the Pentagon earlier this month, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta assured Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto that Washington will inform Tokyo by month’s end of the results of its probe into a June nonfatal crash of a CV-22, an Osprey variant used by the U.S. Air Force, in Florida.
A Defense Department spokesman said the visit by the Japanese officials marked “a step forward” in the process of confirming the safety of the Ospreys and their deployment to Japan.
“The Osprey is important to the defense of Japan. It will enable U.S. Marines to fly faster and farther with the ability to refuel in flight, so it can stay aloft much longer,” the spokesman said.
Meanwhile, ex-U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage on Wednesday urged Tokyo to view the wider security picture in the Asia-Pacific region, instead of focusing primarily on concerns over the safety of the MV-22s.
“Don’t let Ospreys take the place of a larger interest and relationship, and a larger alliance,” Armitage told a think tank forum in Washington, stressing the importance of Japan-U.S. ties amid the region’s changing security environment. “What we are trying to do is say, ‘Let’s not let the tail wag the dog.’ “
Armitage said the United States realizes that hosting U.S. bases places a heavy burden on Japan, particularly on Okinawa, where the majority are located.
“The (onus) is on us to be extra thoughtful about our approach and be very careful and cautious in our consultation with the government of Japan,” he said.
Expressing frustration over Japan’s preoccupation with the Futenma air station’s long-stalled relocation and the Osprey deployment, Armitage described these as minor matters in the overall context of the bilateral alliance.
“For too long, these third-order issues have taken all the oxygen out of the room,” he said.