Local authorities lodged a protest Wednesday with the central government and the U.S. military after a U.S. Air Force member’s parachute fell onto the grounds of a school near Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo the day before.
“It could have been a life-threatening incident” and was extremely regrettable, Shin Namiki, mayor of the city of Hamura, said in letters to the U.S. military and the Japanese Defense Ministry, according to the municipal government. He also sent a letter of protest to the Foreign Ministry.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Wednesday that the U.S. side had conveyed to the government that the U.S. military would halt the parachute training until they determined the cause.
City officials said students of a junior high school found the parachute on a tennis court on Tuesday afternoon. The U.S. military explained that the parachute failed to open and was cut loose during a drill the same day, according to the Defense Ministry.
City officials said no one was hurt in the incident, but that it had further stoked safety concerns for some residents already uneasy about the recently announced deployment of Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft to the Yokota base.
The mayor said in the letters that such an accident “cannot be tolerated” and demanded that the U.S. military stop descent training and implement thorough safety measures.
The U.S. military apologized to the Defense Ministry, and the ministry called for measures to prevent a recurrence.
The parachute fell on the junior high school in Hamura after becoming detached due to difficulties during a parachute drop training exercise at around 4:30 p.m., the Defense Ministry said.
The exercise was conducted above the Yokota base, which straddles Hamura and other cities, but the parachute was carried by the wind and fell outside the base, the ministry quoted the U.S. military as saying.
After detaching the parachute, a U.S. serviceman used a spare one to descend to the base, according to the ministry.
The U.S. military started the training, using C-130 transport aircraft, on Monday for a five-day run, the ministry said.
The junior high school is located about 500 meters from the base.
Hamura officials said they received a report from the school at around 4:50 p.m. that a student — a member of a tennis club — had found what appeared to be a parachute some 3 meters long with English letters on it.
At the time, the student was practicing tennis with five other students and one coach on a court next to the one where the parachute was found.