National

Friends and colleagues mourn deaths of Nagano helicopter crash victims

Kyodo

People who knew the nine men killed in a rescue helicopter crash Sunday during a drill in Nagano Prefecture expressed painful feelings after desperately hoping for their survival.

A close family friend of the chopper’s mechanic, Ryota Shimizu, 45, said Monday he felt saddened after hearing that Shimizu was one of those killed in the accident, leaving a wife and two children.

“I continued watching the news, hoping that he would be safe because his children are still young,” said Kazuaki Yamagishi, 69, who lives next door.

The family has a son in the second grade and a daughter aged around 3 years old who has just learned how to ride a small tricycle, Yamagishi said.

Shimizu participated in local community activities and was respected by people in the neighborhood as he was always smiling and had a gentle personality, Yamagishi said.

Every morning, Shimizu would take his son and Yamagishi’s granddaughter to school and often go sleighing at a nearby park when it was snowing.

“He held hands with my granddaughter and took care of her as if she was his own family,” Yamagishi said.

Another of the victims was Tadahiro Takizawa, a 47-year-old firefighter.

He had been assigned to lead the Nagano disaster prevention air corps and he engaged in his work with a sense of mission, according to Akio Ushiro, his high school baseball coach.

“He was called ‘Ta-chan’ by his peers and made a lot of effort. He practiced every day without being absent,” said the 71-year-old Ushiro.

Takizawa often spoke about his rescue work at social gatherings, Ushiro said.

A woman who lives close to Takizawa said in tears: “I want this to be false. I can’t believe that someone who was working very hard for Nagano people was involved in such an accident.”

A neighbor living in the hometown of victim Wataru Ito, a 35-year-old firefighter, said he was surprised to hear the news.

“I was concerned because it has been dark in his house since yesterday,” the man said. “I am surprised to hear that he was involved in the accident. He had good reflexes and was active.”

Kazuo Takeda, 56, a former superior of Ito, had been wishing for his survival, and had thought, “I desperately want his life to be saved.” Later, however, he was notified about Ito’s death.

“All I can say is this is disappointing,” Takeda said. “He was an excellent member. I expected him to play a central role in the future by leading younger members.”

Noritoshi Takashima, 37, and Hiroshi Oguchi, 42, had been dispatched to the Nagano disaster air corps from the Matsumoto Regional Fire Bureau for a three-year stint.

The wife of Takashima, speaking in front of their house in Matsumoto, said: “He was a doting father and very kind. As he had expressed hopes of working on a helicopter, I think he fulfilled his job.”

After Takashima and Oguchi joined the regional bureau in 2004 and 1993, respectively, the two were assigned to work as special rescue workers who needed special training and joined in rescue operations at traffic accidents as well in fires and other disasters.

“The two were reliable as rescue workers and earnest,” said Tetsuya Shimizu, the head of the regional bureau. “They were loved by the staff.”

Akito Noike, chief of crisis management in the Nagano Prefectural Government, said he was “at a loss for words.”

“I’m extremely regretful and I feel very sorry,” Noike said.