Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine said Thursday his request that flights be suspended at the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station, following the Aug. 13 helicopter crash on a nearby university campus, seems to have fallen on deaf ears.
Inamine made the request at a meeting with Michael Michalak, the U.S. deputy chief of mission, who currently serves as charge d’affaires, at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.
U.S. Ambassador Howard Baker is presently in the United States.
The governor told reporters he asked for flights to be grounded until safety is ensured. But Michalak simply told him the U.S. military will do its utmost to keep its aircraft in good shape, a remark Inamine took to mean the United States will not stop the flights.
A CH-53D Sea Stallion transport helicopter from the Futenma base crashed Friday on the Okinawa International University campus, adjacent to the base in the city of Ginowan, injuring the three crew members on board. No one else was hurt.
The U.S. forces resumed flight drills at Futenma on Monday despite a protest from Ginowan Mayor Yoichi Iha.
In a letter to the embassy, Inamine said Friday’s crash “highlighted the danger posed by the Futenma Air Station, which is located in an urban area.”
The governor called for a halt to all flights at the base until steps are taken to ensure there are no other accidents.
He also urged a revision of the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement to enable Japanese authorities to take part in accident investigations involving U.S. military aircraft in Okinawa, home to 75 percent of all U.S. forces in Japan.
The United States declined a request by police to take part in the crash probe.
Later in the day, Inamine met with Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence.
Speaking to reporters afterward, Hosoda said the government will stick to the current plan to return the Futenma base site after a relocation airport is built off Nago, northern Okinawa, even though there has been little progress in the eight years since Tokyo and Washington agreed to the idea.
“We will proceed according to the plan,” Hosoda said.
He added that a ” sufficient investigation” should be conducted into the cause of the accident, adding that Japan will take up the issue in diplomatic talks with the U.S.
During the meeting, Inamine urged the central government to have the U.S. suspend training flights at the base and cut the U.S. forces there in order to reduce danger to residents.
Hosoda said he replied that the government will “make sincere efforts” to fully consider Okinawa’s requests.
In Okinawa on Thursday, Kiyotaka Takahashi, the prefectural police chief, told reporters that Japanese investigations into U.S.-military accidents are restricted by the SOFA.
“We’re not supposed to conduct (investigations) beyond the agreement,” he said.
Later in the day, Okinawa police began inspecting the crash scene, but only after the U.S. had removed the helicopter wreckage.
YOKOHAMA (Kyodo) A U.S. Air Force helicopter made an emergency landing at a heliport here Thursday due to engine trouble, police said.
The UH-1N helicopter, from the Yokota Air Base in Tokyo, was on a training flight with four crew members aboard when the engine trouble occurred, according to police and the Yokohama Municipal Government. There were no reports of injuries.
The chopper was on its way back to the base after flying over Mount Fuji and other locations. The crew detected the trouble about 2 km from the heliport near Rinko Park that is owned by the city and usually used by tourism helicopters.
Harbor police on a patrol vessel went to the heliport and questioned the helicopter crew about the trouble and the emergency landing, which took place around 9:55 a.m.
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