693: Number of times Okinawa schoolkids have taken shelter from U.S. aircraft in year since helicopter part fell in yard


Students at an elementary school in Okinawa Prefecture have taken shelter nearly 700 times due to U.S. military aircraft flying overhead since an American helicopter window fell onto the school’s yard a year ago.

On Dec. 13 last year, a window fell from a CH-53E large transport helicopter, deployed to U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, and fell onto the schoolyard at Futenma No. 2 Elementary School, which is located next to the military facility.

“I cried when I saw the children evacuating,” said principal Osamu Tobaru, who took the post earlier this year.

According to the elementary school, the children and others have evacuated from the schoolyard 693 times in the past year. During one particular gym class, children had to take shelter five times.

Tobaru said that there was no point in holding classes if students would have to evacuate twice during the same class period.

He added that the children’s right to receive an education had been violated.

Shelters and surveillance cameras were set up at the school following the incident.

Security guards who would urge children and others to flee from U.S. aircraft were positioned at the school until the end of September this year. Teachers and other school staff now decide whether to evacuate. Tobaru, however, said, “We are conflicted because we don’t know what is right.”

The central government on Friday is expected to start the placement of soil in land reclamation work off the Henoko coastal district in the city of Nago, also in the prefecture, as part of a project to relocate the Futenma base.

When asked about the base relocation within the prefecture, Tobaru asked, “Why only Okinawa?”

He said that he would like the government to give a little more thought to the island prefecture, which hosts 70 percent of U.S. military installations in Japan.

Also last year, on Dec. 7, what looked like a part from a U.S. military helicopter was discovered on the roof of a nursery near a landing field at the Futenma base.

Ryoko Chinen, 43, who has two daughters who attend the nursery, said that she was “at a loss for words” when she learned of the incident.

Chinen, a graduate of Futenma No. 2, said that, although a U.S. military aircraft crashed inside the air base when she was a student at the school, she did not feel that she was in danger until the incident at the nursery.

The U.S. has denied that the object fell from one of its aircraft and the cause of the incident has not been identified.

Chinen was among a group that traveled to Tokyo last Friday on the first anniversary of the nursery school incident to request that the government urge the U.S. to stop its aircraft from flying over the nursery and to investigate the cause of the incident.

“I hope that our children will not have to do this kind of thing,” she said.