U.S. military chopper bursts into flames in Japan

AFP-JIJI, Kyodo

An American military helicopter burst into flames after landing in an empty field in Okinawa Wednesday. No injuries were reported.

The U.S. Marines said the CH-53 chopper caught fire during a training flight and was forced to land in the village of Higashi, which is outside the Northern Training Area.

NHK showed dramatic footage of firefighters battling orange flames after dark and plumes of black smoke billowing from the aircraft.

Japanese authorities asked the U.S. military to provide a full report and take steps to prevent similar accidents.

“Accidents by the U.S. Marine Corps are continuing. We want to communicate to the U.S. side that we demand safe operations,” Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters.

According to eyewitnesses cited by NHK, the accident occurred shortly after 5:30 p.m.

In December, five crew members aboard a U.S. Marine MV-22 Osprey were injured in what the Pentagon described as a “mishap” resulting in the plane landing in shallow water off Okinawa.

At that time, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said it was “very regrettable” that a “serious accident” had occurred and stressed that being able to operate safely was a “prerequisite” for the aircraft to be based in Japan.

A series of accidents in other countries involving the hybrid aircraft prompted protests by residents in Okinawa after its deployment there.

In August, U.S. Marines were forced to mount a major search and rescue mission after an MV-22 Osprey crashed of the east coast of Australia.

They rescued 23 out of the 26 personnel and eventually called off the hunt for the three remaining crew.

More than half the approximately 47,000 American troops in the country under a decades-long security alliance are stationed on Okinawa, the site of a major World War II battle that was followed by a 27-year U.S. occupation of the island.