NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. – The Okinawa Prefectural Assembly on Monday unanimously adopted a resolution protesting last week’s nonfatal crash-landing of a U.S. military helicopter and demanding that the use of helipads be halted in the training area it strayed from.
The resolution said the U.S. has increased training exercises over private land since six helipads were built in the U.S. Northern Training Area. Some of the helipads are close to residential areas.
Both the resolution and a separately adopted statement addressed to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said last Wednesday’s emergency landing by the CH-53E transport, which took place a few hundred meters away from Okinawan homes, was “on the verge of being a major disaster.”
“It was a great shock to Okinawa residents, who are forced to live alongside military bases. The anxiety and fear of the residents are immeasurable,” the assembly said.
In addition to urging the Japanese and U.S. governments to halt use of the helipads, the assembly also called for a halt to U.S. training exercises over private land in Okinawa.
The CH-53E was based at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan. The accident was the latest in a string that includes the tilt-rotor MV-22 Osprey.
People in Okinawa have long been frustrated with noise, crimes and accidents linked to U.S. military bases.
In Wednesday’s accident, the helicopter caught fire during a training flight and burst into flames as it landed outside the training area. No residents were hurt, and its seven crew members emerged unharmed.
The U.S. Marine Corps in Japan said Thursday that it ordered a “96-hour operational pause” for all CH-53Es stationed in Okinawa.
Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said the following day that he expects the U.S. military to suspend CH-53E flights in Okinawa for an indefinite period until safety is ensured.
In December last year, around 4,000 hectares of forest, or roughly half the land used for the U.S. Northern Training Area, a venue for jungle warfare training, were returned to Japan in exchange for the construction of six helipads by the Japanese government.