Okinawa residents demand Ospreys be grounded in light of crash off Australia

Kyodo

Okinawa residents on Saturday demanded that all of the U.S. military’s Ospreys in Japan be grounded in the wake of last week’s fatal crash involving one of the tilt-rotor transports off Australia.

“It is clear that the Osprey is an extremely dangerous and defective aircraft,” said a resolution issued at a gathering in Naha, the prefectural capital. Organizers say the rally drew 45,000 people.

The crash of the MV-22 Osprey has reignited concerns about the its safety.

People in Okinawa, where most of America’s military facilities in Japan are based, have long been frustrated with noise, crimes and accidents linked to U.S. bases.

An MV-22 Osprey deployed at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa crashed off the eastern coast of Australia after clipping a U.S. ship on Aug. 5, killing three U.S. Marines. Last December, another MV-22 ditched off Okinawa, marking the first major accident involving the tilt-rotor aircraft in Japan.

A total of 24 MV-22s are deployed at the Futenma base despite local concerns over their checkered safety record.

The U.S. Marine Corps said on Wednesday it will continue flying Ospreys in Japan because it deems them safe. The Japanese government requested that the aircraft be grounded last week, until relenting on Friday and allowing flights to resume.

In a speech at the gathering, Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga criticized the central government, saying it “immediately backs down once the U.S. military says (Ospreys) are necessary for operations.”

Referring to the accidents, Onaga said, “I cannot help but feel resentment over how the situation has turned out to be the way prefectural residents feared it would be.”

The Osprey, which takes off and lands like a helicopter but can cruise like a fixed-wing plane by rotating its turbo props 90 degrees, has a long history of safety problems.

Onaga also took the opportunity to repeat his opposition to the bilateral plan for moving the Futenma base from crowded Ginowan to Henoko, a coastal part of Nago.

“I am convinced that a new base certainly cannot be built,” said the governor, who has repeatedly called for the base to be moved outside the prefecture.

The Futenma relocation plan remains a contentious point between the central and Okinawa governments.

Among those who braved the scorching heat to attend the outdoor demonstration was Ginowan resident Josei Hirayasu, 74, who said he is always worried an Osprey might crash while flying over his home and is fed up with the noise.

“I want the deployment withdrawn immediately,” Hirayasu said.