GINOWAN, OKINAWA PREF. – Staff and students called for the closure of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma on Tuesday, as they gathered to mark 15 years since a military helicopter from the base crashed on the campus at Okinawa International University.
Both the Futenma base and the university are located in the city of Ginowan in Okinawa Prefecture.
Speaking to some 150 people gathered near a charred tree that was burned in the crash, Eiken Maetsu, president of the university, called on the Japanese and U.S. governments to take action. “I strongly demand that the Japanese and U.S. governments immediately remove and shut down Futenma air base,” Maetsu stressed.
Maetsu also referred to a 2017 incident in which a component fell from a U.S. helicopter onto the grounds of an elementary school in the city. “It was a serious accident that could have been life-threatening with just one step in the wrong direction, ” he said.
The helicopter involved had been stationed at the Futenma base.
On Aug. 13, 2004, a CH-53 transport helicopter operated by the U.S. Marine Corps crashed into a building at the university and burst into flames.
No civilians were injured in the incident, but three U.S. Marines were wounded.
Maetsu also spoke about the prefecture-wide referendum held this February, in which the majority of votes opposed relocation of the base to the Henoko coastal area in Nago, also in Okinawa Prefecture.
“Residents’ distrust toward the government will only grow as long as it tries to continue building the new base despite their strong opposition,” he said.
“I feel firsthand the dangers I face, just from living, every time I learn about an incident involving U.S. troops,” said Ayumi Miyagi, 22, a fourth-year economics student at the university. “I pray that safe and peaceful skies will return to the area around the university and the base.”