NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. – The U.S. Air Force resumed flights of the HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter in Okinawa on Friday, saying they had found no abnormalities in other choppers of the same type following a fatal accident last week.
The cause of the Aug. 5 crash, which occurred on a mountin in U.S. Marine Corps Camp Hansen and killed one crew member, has yet to be identified.
Local governments and residents have been quick to voice their opposition to the resumption of flights.
“We cannot allow the helicopters to fly again until we know why the crash happened,” said Atsushi Toma, mayor of Ginoza village, which hosts part of Camp Hansen.
Susumu Matayoshi, head of Okinawa governor’s executive office, said new safety measures should be introduced before flights are resumed.
An HH-60G took off just before 10 a.m. from Kadena Air Base, making it the first flight of the rescue helicopter since the crash, which killed 30-year-old Tech. Sgt. Mark Smith. The three other crew members were rescued.
The U.S. Air Force said Wednesday that no abnormalities had been found during a 96-hour check and the helicopters are safe to fly, with the media and local government officials being shown one of the choppers to ease safety concerns.
Tokyo and Washington have been trying to ease safety concerns about U.S. military operations as local anti-base sentiment is casting a shadow over the thorny issue of replacing U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma with a new airstrip in the city of Nago, also in Okinawa.
However, opposition to the deployment of the MV-22 Osprey aircraft shows no signs of weakening.
The marines began the deployment of the tilt-rotor aircraft last year and aims to complete the transfer of all 24 Ospreys to the Futenma base in Ginowan soon.
Okinawa hosts the bulk of U.S. military bases in Japan.