NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. – A wave of shock, anger and anxiety spread in Japan after a U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey crash-landed Tuesday night off the coast of Okinawa Prefecture, in the first major accident in the country involving the tilt-rotor aircraft.
The accident has reinforced a view held by many in Okinawa that the aircraft is accident-prone, and increased their resentment toward the central government for forcing the prefecture to host the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan.
People voiced anxiety in the city of Saga, which has been asked by the central government to host the aircraft when the Ground Self-Defense Force procures them, as well as in Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture, which hosts a Marine base that Ospreys frequently fly in and out of.
“Although (the accident) occurred at sea, I got really scared thinking it could have fallen where we live,” said Yuri Soma, 39, who has been involved in protests against the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan to a coastal area in Nago, both in Okinawa.
A total of 24 MV-22s are deployed at the Futenma base.
“I only have anger,” a senior official of the Nago municipal government said. “This kind of accident occurs because the Japanese government overloads Okinawa with bases. I wonder how much longer the central government will continue to avoid looking at Okinawa’s situation.”
The relocation plan has been at the heart of political and legal wrangling between the central and prefectural governments as the latter seeks to relocate the base outside the prefecture.
The accident is “really outrageous,” Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga told reporters.
Takuma Higashionna, a Nago Municipal Assembly member and a member of a civic group opposing helicopter base construction in the prefecture, said Ospreys “should not be flying to begin with” as previous accidents have indicated that the Osprey is a “faulty aircraft.”
The latest accident occurred at a time when the Saga Prefectural Government was considering whether to accept the Defense Ministry’s request to allow the deployment of the aircraft at the airport in the city of Saga.
“It was a serious accident that should not have happened, and we ask for a thorough investigation into the cause of it,” Saga Gov. Yoshinori Yamaguchi told reporters, adding that he cannot accept the deployment of the Ospreys when the cause of the accident is unclear.
Shigeaki Tokunaga, the head of a local fisheries cooperative, said the accident has left a bad impression on locals and was sure to affect their response to the deployment plan.
“Fishermen would likely worry that Osprey aircraft may crash in their fishing grounds,” he said.
“If (an Osprey) crashed into the Saga sea, it would severely damage Japan’s top seaweed produce,” said 67-year-old Hatsuji Koga, who leads a local group opposing the deployment.
In Iwakuni, home to the Marines’ Air Station Iwakuni, at which a Navy variant of the aircraft is set to be deployed by 2026, civic group representative Hiroshi Okamura referred to a number of accidents involving the aircraft overseas and said such an accident could occur at Iwakuni as well.
The city asked the defense ministry to ensure a thorough investigation and to take steps to prevent similar accidents in the future.
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