U.S. Air Force calls HH-60Gs safe, to restart Okinawa training flights

Kyodo, Staff Report

The U.S. military informed Okinawa Prefecture on Wednesday that it will resume training flights using HH-60G Pave Hawk rescue helicopters Friday after one of the choppers crashed at Camp Hansen on Okinawa Island on Aug. 5, claiming the life of a crewman.

The news immediately sparked criticism in Okinawa as the prefectural assembly had unanimously passed a resolution urging the U.S. military to suspend flights by other helicopters of the same type until the cause of the crash is determined.

The U.S. Air Force showed the media one of the choppers, with a mechanic saying no abnormalities had been found during a 96-hour check. But the air force also said it has yet to determine the cause of the Aug. 5 crash of an HH-60G in a mountainous area within U.S. Marine Corps Camp Hansen, about 2 km from a residential area.

Atsushi Toma, mayor of the village of Ginoza, which hosts part of the facility, told reporters, “We can hardly accept (a resumption of flights) before the cause is determined — it is unforgivable.”

Okinawa citizens also expressed anger over the U.S. decision. A 53-year-old man said, “I can’t believe they are resuming (the flights) when a thorough investigation into the cause of the accident has yet to finish.”

He was among more than 100 protesters rallying in front of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to protest the additional deployment of MV-22 tilt-rotor Osprey aircraft to the base.

One of four crew members aboard the HH-60G died in the crash. The U.S. military later identified him as Tech. Sgt. Mark Smith, 30, assigned to the 33rd Rescue Squadron at the Kadena base. Smith, originally from Bakersfield, California, joined the U.S. Air Force in 2000 after graduating from high school.

The U.S. military suspended Pave Hawk flights after the crash.