Copter went down on mountain at Okinawa base

U.S. grounds HH-60 helicopters in Japan after accident


The U.S. military said Tuesday it is suspending flights by HH-60 helicopters at Japan’s request until the cause of a crash in Okinawa has been determined.

After attending the ceremony to mark the 68th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said safety should not be compromised.

“It is important that the safety of local people comes first. We would like to ask the U.S. side to give utmost consideration to safety,” he said during a news conference in Hiroshima.

To ease concern about U.S. military operations, Japanese and U.S. officials are expected to hold a joint committee meeting Thursday to share information about the accident and discuss preventive measures, Japanese officials said.

Air operations for the rescue squadron to which the crashed HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter belonged have been suspended indefinitely, the 18th Wing public affairs division of the U.S. Kadena Air Base said.

The U.S. Kadena Air Base issued a statement earlier in the day saying human remains were discovered at the crash site in Camp Hansen in central Okinawa Island, but that they had not yet been identified. The helicopter, part of a rescue squadron, reportedly had four crew members. Three were listed in stable condition, the statement from Kadena said.

The crash Monday was in a mountainous area, reportedly about 2 km from the nearest residential area.

A U.S. military helicopter was seen dumping water Monday and Tuesday in the area and fire trucks and ambulances of the U.S. forces were observed at one of Camp Hansen’s gates.

Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima met separately in Tokyo with the foreign and defense ministers as well as Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga to call for a thorough investigation into the accident.

Nakaima said it is inevitable that people in Okinawa will associate the accident with the Osprey tilt-rotor transport aircraft, which the U.S. military started deploying in Okinawa last year to replace aging CH-46 helicopters.

“There are many bases in Okinawa near densely populated areas. We want the government to ask the U.S side to provide information about why the crash happened and suspend flights until measures are taken to prevent a recurrence,” Nakaima told Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera.

Onodera said he discussed the issue with U.S. Ambassador John Roos during the day and that the government was still gathering information.

“We understand that there are various concerns among the people of Okinawa, including over the deployment of the Osprey. We asked (the U.S. side) to deal with the latest accident in a manner that addresses the local concerns,” Onodera said.

Coming at a sensitive time, the accident prompted the U.S. military to put off the transfer of additional MV-22 Osprey aircraft from Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture, to the Futenma base in Okinawa.

Residents in Okinawa held a protest Tuesday over the crash, calling for the suspension of drills by U.S. forces and the removal of the military bases.

About 200 protesters gathered in front of one of the gates at Futenma in the city of Ginowan.

Ryokichi Chinen, 74, from the town of Chatan, said the U.S. forces “leave people’s lives on a back burner and give priority to military training.”

Chinen, who survived the Battle of Okinawa in the final days of World War II in 1945 at age 6, said training flights by U.S. fighter jets near his home remind him of strafing runs during the war.

“U.S. military aircraft crashes could occur anytime. The military bases should be removed,” he said.

Atsushi Toma, mayor of the village of Ginoza, which hosts part of Camp Hansen, urged the head of the Defense Ministry’s Okinawa branch to work to prevent such accidents and clarify the cause of the crash.

Hirofumi Takeda, chief of the Okinawa Defense Bureau, told Toma it is “regrettable” that the accident occurred despite the central government’s request to the United States to ensure the safety of military flight operations.

  • ff

    “It is important that the safety of local people comes first. We would like to ask the U.S. side to give utmost consideration to safety,” he said during a news conference in Hiroshima.” – Prime Minister Abe
    The problem with that statement, is that safety is a number one priority when planning these training missions. He words it as we just went out half assed with no real goal in mind. I agree the safety of the local people are important, but they safety of the US soldiers are important as well. These brave men and women travel across the pacific from the US all the way to Japan to protect a people and a nation they probably have never meet or been to before. There needs to be a bit more consideration for what these US soldiers go through on the side of the Japanese government and people. He could have at least made a comment about the safety of the soldiers aboard.

  • While temporarily grounding an aircraft type pending investigation following a major accident is fairly common, I hope that when asking for the USAF to ground their HH-60s Japan also asked for US Forces to ground their fleet of UH/SH/MH-60 aircraft in Japan, as well as grounded the JASDF/JGSDF/JMSDF fleet of UH/SH-60s. They are all basically the same aircraft, after all.

  • My condolence for the deceased soldier.
    I don’t need any made up reason to beef up force, no matter which side it’s belonged to, since what current our government is doing, is completely upsidedown with its cause and effect.
    This mixed up situation is not spontaneously happened, but intentionally to a certain degree.
    Saying “We have to make our defense more tight because China’s threatening us” after broke a promise, refusing to sit at a table, China sends their ship to near the area since she has to keep making some action to appeal her state with the issue, then we say “We have to spend more money for defense” or “Also we’re much counting on US’s help””Maybe we’re getting more comfortable if we afford V-22 or drones that US has”, makes no sense.
    Nothing but a joke to me.
    There should be an appropriate, or rational measure that we have to take in, as long as we’re the people having forefathers who had done many things annoying neighbors, also having no more money to beef up force.