NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. – A U.S. military helicopter made an emergency landing Friday evening in Okinawa, local government and police officials said, the second incident involving U.S. aircraft in just over a month in Okinawa, where public opposition to the huge U.S. military presence is strong.
The chopper was an AH-1 attack helicopter based at the U.S. Marine Corps’ Air Station Futenma in Okinawa, a Defense Ministry source said.
The chopper landed in an attempt to avoid an accident after developing mechanical trouble, according to a central government source. The helicopter “conducted a precautionary landing,” the U.S. Marines Corps said in a statement, adding, “There was no damage to the aircraft and no injuries.”
The chopper, with two crew members, landed on a farm path on Ikei Island off the city of Uruma, said police, who received a call from a resident at around 7:40 p.m. saying a helicopter had made an emergency landing.
“This kind of incident provokes anxiety among residents and should never happen,” a prefectural government official said. The prefectural government will lodge a protest with the U.S. military and urge it to prevent similar incidents, the official added.
The incident has reignited safety concerns in the prefecture, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan. It followed a crash-landing on Dec. 13 of a U.S. Marines Osprey aircraft, which was also stationed at the Futenma base, during a nighttime refueling drill. The Osprey crash-landed in shallow water 800 meters from a village near Nago, injuring two crew members.
The site of Friday’s incident is about 1 kilometer from a resort hotel. A male hotel employee in his 30s said, “I’m so relieved that the helicopter did not crash into the building.”
Masanori Tamaki, 60, head of the neighborhood community association on Ikei, said: “I was afraid that this would happen someday. Why do they ever have to fly the choppers above the island? All the residents here are worried.”