Transport minister Seiji Maehara blasted the Japan Coast Guard on Friday for what could be taken as a coverup attempt in its handling of Wednesday’s helicopter crash in the Seto Inland Sea off Kagawa Prefecture.
The Hiroshima-based 6th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters said Thursday night that the helicopter crash that killed four crew members occurred between demonstration flights it was making for successful bar exam applicants. The fifth crewman aboard the chopper is missing.
Initially, the regional headquarters had only announced that the chopper was on a patrol, failing to reveal the aircraft crashed between two planned demonstration flights. The copter hit and severed power lines.
“It’s questionable to have hidden something doubtful. I think it is important to reveal any information,” said Maehara, who, as minister of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism, has jurisdiction over the coast guard.
The demonstration flights were for an excursion in a patrol boat organized by the Mizushima Coast Guard Office in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, at the request of the Okayama District Public Prosecutor’s Office, for legal apprentices who had passed the bar, the regional headquarters said.
The voyage was intended to deepen the apprentices’ understanding of coast guard activities.
It is customary for those undergoing legal apprenticeship to take part in a variety of field activities, such as getting aboard coast guard boats and inspecting media organizations, in addition to receiving lectures at the Legal Research and Training Institute and getting in-service training to become judges, prosecutors or lawyers.
Maehara said that both he and the coast guard’s highest ranking officer, Commandant Hisayasu Suzuki, received the information belatedly Thursday night after the media reported the helicopter crashed between demonstration flights.
He called the belated announcement by the regional headquarters “inappropriate” and urged it to reflect on its conduct.
While officials at the helicopter’s home base in Hiroshima Prefecture were aware of the demonstration flights, the regional headquarters was not informed of the activity until after the crash, it said.
The regional headquarters said earlier that the accident occurred while the copter was on a routine patrol and that the crew of the Bell 412EP had told the Hiroshima Air Station about 10 minutes before the 3:10 p.m. crash that they were investigating an abandoned vessel, suggesting it may have lowered its altitude to take photos.
But on Thursday, the regional headquarters said the helicopter crashed near Sanagi Island while it was heading for its second demonstration flight for the spectators on board the coast guard boat.
On the apparent contradiction over the explanations, a coast guard official said the helicopter was “cooperating (with the boat) as part of its patrol. It tried to conduct an investigation between the exhibitions.”
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