National

U.S. nixes police role in copter crash probe

Kyodo

The U.S. military Tuesday rejected a request by police to conduct a physical investigation of the wreckage of a U.S. Marine Corps helicopter that crashed on a university campus near the Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture last week.

A Marine Corps representative hand-delivered a letter of refusal to a police station in Ginowan, where the crash took place.

Under the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, which governs the management and operation of the U.S. military in Japan, Japanese authorities must obtain U.S. consent for investigations involving U.S. military personnel and property.

Citing such bilateral agreements, the U.S. side said that the local authorities can request investigation results through the Japan-U.S. Joint Committee, which deals with SOFA-related matters.

The marine corps began removing the damaged CH-53D transport helicopter from the Okinawa International University campus to the Futenma base Monday. The work continued Tuesday.

Japanese police meanwhile conducted an on-site inspection of the site Tuesday without touching the debris. Police officials said they will ask the U.S. military to present its investigation documents and depositions to help their probe.

The crash occurred Friday afternoon, injuring the three crew members on board. No one on the ground was hurt.

Prefectural police Friday obtained a warrant allowing them to conduct an investigation at the crash site, alleging that the crash was a violation of aviation safety law. They then requested permission from the U.S. military.

“The U.S. forces probably did not permit an investigation into the helicopter debris to determine the cause of the accident by saying the crashed equipment involves military secrecy,” said Hiroshi Homma, a professor of international law at Hosei University.

Following the accident, nearby communities stepped up calls on the Japanese and U.S. governments for the return of the Futenma base site.

The United States agreed in 1996 to return the site to Japan after a replacement site is provided in Okinawa.

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