Japanese, U.S. officials discuss preventive steps after air force helicopter crash

Kyodo

Japanese and U.S. government officials met Thursday in Tokyo to discuss Monday’s fatal crash of a U.S. Air Force HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter at a marine camp in Okinawa that forced the grounding of other choppers of the same type, and to look for ways to prevent further accidents.

The crash on a mountain within U.S. Marine Corps Camp Hansen is believed to have claimed the life of one of the four crew members aboard the aircraft. The other three survived with injuries, earlier reports said.

The U.S. delegation in Thursday’s discussions was led by Peter Lavoy, acting assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, while Koji Tomita, head of the Foreign Ministry’s North American Affairs Bureau, and Hideshi Tokuchi, director general of the Defense Ministry’s Policy Bureau, represented the Japanese side.

“We had a very good meeting today,” Lavoy told reporters afterward, without elaborating.

At the closed-door meeting, officials from the Foreign and Defense ministries are believed to have asked the U.S. side to put safety first, as the crash took place some 2 km from a residential area.

The director general-level meeting came as Tokyo urged Washington to share information about the cause of the crash, and to put preventive measures in place amid local concerns about U.S. military operations in Okinawa, home to the bulk of U.S. forces installations.

“We will continue to ask the U.S. side to place priority on safety, and reduce the base-hosting burden on Okinawa,” Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said at a press conference before the meeting.

The U.S. military is investigating the crash and told the Defense Ministry it will question the three surviving crew members to determine the sequence of events leading up to the accident.

Tokyo and Washington had originally planned to hold a regular meeting of the U.S.-Japan Joint Committee, a framework to discuss issues related to U.S. bases in Japan.

But they apparently expanded it to include more officials, including Lavoy, given the gravity of the accident, before the joint committee takes up the issue.

Both sides are also trying to keep anti-base sentiment from growing at a time when Tokyo is waiting for Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima to approve its application to begin filling in offshore areas in Nago to accommodate the runways for the planned airstrip to replace U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan.

Monday’s crash, although involving a different type of aircraft, has further fueled local opposition to the deployment of marine MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor transport aircraft to Futenma to replace aging CH-46 helicopters. The U.S. military postponed the transfer of 10 more Ospreys from U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture to Futenma to join 14 other MV-22s already deployed.

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said Thursday that safety measures should be put in place before HH-60 flights resume, adding that the rest of the Ospreys at Iwakuni will probably stay put for now.