NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. – The U.S. military helicopter that crash landed aboard a ship off Okinawa on Wednesday may have touched a crane on the vessel before the incident, Japanese government sources said Thursday.
Seven of the 17 crew members aboard the U.S. Army H-60 were injured in the crash landing, which occurred during a special forces drill to seize a hijacked ship, the sources said. Two of the injured were members of the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force specializing in responding to terrorism and guerilla attacks, they said.
The U.S. military had initially said six crew members were injured but corrected the number to seven Thursday.
The Okinawa government asked the central government to urge the U.S. military forces in Japan to investigate the crash and disclose information.
In a letter submitted to the local defense bureau, the Okinawa government said the accident will cause “great concern to prefectural residents who have been forced to live alongside U.S. bases.”
The defense bureau said it will provide information when it has confirmed what happened.
U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said Wednesday in Washington he is “not going to overreact to one incident” and emphasized the necessity for allied nations to work together.
“There are risks in the work that we do every single day, and . . . we obviously want to prevent any of these risks. But sometimes, unfortunately, we have accidents,” he told reporters.
Asked about any possible impact on the Japan-U.S. security relationship, Odierno declined to comment, saying “I’m not going to predict what the issue will be within Japanese politics.”
The helicopter made the crash landing on the 62,000-ton U.S. military ship Red Cloud around 1:46 p.m. on Wednesday in the Pacific Ocean some 14 kilometers southeast of Ikei Island, part of the city of Uruma, according to the Japan Coast Guard.
The accident came hours before a meeting between Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga to discuss a controversial plan to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within the prefecture. The two sides agreed to continue talks, noting the great gap between their positions.
Onaga told reporters Thursday in Naha that Okinawa is in an “obscure situation” as it is not receiving sufficient information on the latest incident from the U.S. military. He added that the Japan-U.S. status of forces agreement should be revised.
The agreement does not obligate the United States to report to Japan about accidents involving U.S. forces in the country.
The “hard deck landing” also came a day before the 11th anniversary of the crash of a U.S. Marine Corps helicopter at Okinawa International University in Ginowan that injured three crew members.
At the time, the Japanese police had difficulty investigating the incident as the status of forces agreement requires that Japan obtain U.S. consent for investigations on U.S. military property.
There have been a number of other crashes in Okinawa involving U.S. military helicopters and fighter aircraft, including a U.S. Air Force helicopter crash in August 2013 at the U.S. Marine Corps’ Camp Hansen that killed one crew member.
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