National

Police request approval to probe chopper crash

Kyodo

The Okinawa Prefectural Police on Saturday asked the U.S. Marine Corps in Okinawa for permission to conduct on-site investigations into the crash of a helicopter at Okinawa International University.

U.S. military personnel continued to investigate the site in Ginowan where a CH-53D transport helicopter from the Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station crashed Friday into a university building before exploding and bursting into flames.

Under the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, which governs the management and operation of U.S. troops in Japan, Japanese investigative authorities need U.S. military approval to conduct investigations into U.S. military assets.

“In order to clarify the cause of the accident, it is necessary to conduct inspections, including on the helicopter,” said Koshin Iraha, the Okinawa Prefectural Police’s chief of criminal investigations. “We would like the approval (of the U.S. military) to look into the cause of the accident.”

At the crash site, three U.S. military personnel wearing fire-safe clothing and carrying oxygen tanks inspected the remains of the charred helicopter.

The Okinawa police were prohibited from entering the crash site.

Shogo Arai, parliamentary secretary to the foreign minister who was dispatched to Okinawa on Saturday, said the ministry will also ask the U.S. military to approve the on-site investigation by police.

According to the police, parts of the helicopter were found at 18 locations other than the crash site, and some housing was damaged.

Ginowan Mayor Yoichi Iha gathered senior city officials at City Hall to discuss how the municipal government should respond to the accident.

Students protested at the main gate of the university, calling for the return of the Futenma base to Japan.

The United States agreed in 1996 to return the base to Japan to ease the military burden in Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan.

The handover, however, has not come about, because a replacement facility has yet to be built off the northern Okinawa city of Nago due to local opposition.

The local chapter of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party filed a request with the Foreign Ministry’s Okinawa office to suspend flights by U.S. military aircraft until safety is ensured.

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