Helicopter crash stirs resentment

Monday’s crash of a HH-60 rescue helicopter from the U.S. Air Force’s Kadena Air Base in Okinawa has reminded Okinawan people, once again, the risks they face due to the presence of U.S. armed forces there. The crash occurred at a time when additional MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft are being transferred to the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station on the same island. Many Okinawans worry about the safety of the Osprey. The latest accident will only deepen their fear and anger over accidents involving the U.S. military, and their distrust of the U.S. and Japanese governments.

The HH-60 helicopter crashed in a heavily wooded area inside Camp Hansen, just 2 km from a residential area and also near the Okinawa Expressway, an elementary school, a kindergarten and a day-care facility for children.

U.S. and Japanese officials should realize that it was only by sheer luck that local residents were not injured by the crash. This was the 45th crash in Okinawa involving U.S. military aircraft since the island’s reversion to Japan 41 years ago in 1972.

In May, an F-15 fighter from Kadena Air Base crashed in the Pacific Ocean about 60 km from Kunigami Village in the northern part of Okinawa Island. These back-to-back crashes suggest that many military aircraft operate close to the edge of their safety margin during flights over Okinawa.

Although the United States has postponed the transfer of 10 out of an additional 12 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft to the Futenma base (two have already been moved), it will not halt the transfer. The Futenma base already has 12 Ospreys. Monday’s crash of the HH-60 helicopter will intensify Okinawans’ fear of the deployment, as the Futenma base is located in the midst of urban Ginowan City. The crash will no doubt intensify the call for moving the functions of the Futenma base out of Okinawa Prefecture altogether.

Both the Japanese and U.S. governments should realize that as long as they stick to their plan of building a replacement facility for the Futenma base in Henoko, northern Okinawa Island, U.S. military bases in Okinawa will continue to stir resentment in the prefecture’s residents. If such resentment continues to grow and fester, it could become a destabilizing factor in the relationship between Japan and the U.S,. and between Tokyo and Okinawa. Japan and the U.S. should rethink the Henoko plan.

When the HH-60 helicopter crashed on Monday, the Okinawan police and firefighters were not allowed to go to the scene of the accident, and Japan was not allowed to join in the investigation of the crash due to the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). As a result, Japan will have to accept the U.S. military’s conclusions about the cause of the crash and will not have a say in what, if any, safety measures should be implemented to prevent future accidents.

The SOFA also makes it difficult for Japanese authorities to investigate off-base crimes committed by U.S. service members. Tokyo should seriously consider seeking revisions of the SOFA as one way of helping to alleviate the burden on Okinawan residents.

  • GaryLockhart

    Where was the outrage when JAL – Japan Airlines – killed 520 people when Flight 123 crashed into Mount Takamagahara?

    • Steve Novosel

      Outrage over…. what? Sadness, sure.

      Or are you trying to make a strange political point by comparing the accidental crash of a commercial airliner and that of a helicopter from a foreign military in Japan?

      • ff

        You know one of our men (USA) died in that crash training to protect YOUR homeland.. Show a bit of respect. Anyways, the bases in Okinawa are in a perfect strategic location. We can rush marines to Taiwan if the PRC starts getting assertive, we can send our forces straight to Korea from there to back up the 2nd Infantry division if the DPRK tries to invade.. etc. The point I am making is that the bases in Okinawa are perfect for the protection of the US, our allies, and our interests. We have a lot of good reason to be there. We aren’t just some “foreign military”. We are the foreign military who rebuilt Japan from the ashes of war into an economic powerhouse. We are the foreign military who liberated the people of Bosnia, Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and countless more. The point I am making is that we have a reason for being in Okinawa, and when crashes like these happen, and one of our men die, there has been a genuine mistake, it isn’t us just being careless and not giving a shit because it is a foreign country.

      • Steve Novosel

        “You know one of our men (USA) died in that crash training to protect YOUR homeland.. ”

        I’m American, ff.

        “We have a lot of good reason to be there.”

        Should be for Japan to decide, not the US. It IS Japan, and the US needs to realize that it can’t just bully its way around the world when it suits strategic goals anymore.

        “We are the foreign military who rebuilt Japan from the ashes of war into an economic powerhouse.”

        No, that was the Japanese people.

        “We are the foreign military who liberated the people of Bosnia, Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and countless more.”

        Yes, maybe, no, no, no. You have a strange neocon perspective there, ff.

        “The point I am making is that we have a reason for being in Okinawa”

        According to the US.

        “and one of our men die, there has been a genuine mistake, it isn’t us just being careless and not giving a shit because it is a foreign country.”

        That may or may not be the case. It probably is the case in this instance but one could easily list hundreds and hundreds of other instances when it was not the case. Take off your blinkers; you know this.

        But this is irrelevant – the original poster I replied to was making a weird analogy between JAL123 and this incident, when there are very clear differences. In fact, it’s quite ludicrous to compare the two.

    • Let’s compare apples to apples: since 1972, there have been over 150 serious accidents involving SDF aircraft, most all of those being crashes (although at least one was a “shoot down”, when an F-15 pilot shot his wingman with a live missile). Not much outrage over any of those, not even when that F-4EJ strafed a golf course due to a short in the cannon wiring…

      To the editors: if a US military aircraft crashes on a US military base in the US, local civilian firefighters and police are not allowed onto the base to put out the fire or investigate. And a crash over an ocean training area 60km from the nearest town is not “operat(ing) close to the edge of their safety margin during flights over Okinawa”, they are not over Okinawa. That is why the training areas are over open ocean, the same as SDF training areas.

      One standard, please. If the US pulled out of Okinawa entirely, the SDF would have to step in to replace the lost deterrence value of those forces. That’s all well and good, actually, but will the Japan Times be leading the charge to move the SDF off Okinawa once the locals start complaining about those dangerous UH-60Js, CH-47Js, F-15Js or F-2A flying overhead?

      • JimmyJM

        Indeed. And with a very aggressive China on Okinawa’s door step, what would the removal of U.S. forces tell them. But the Okinawan demonstrators usually ignore two points. One, the MV-22 is being deployed to replace the old CH-46 and similar helicopters that stand a much greater chance of falling out of the sky due to their age. And two, there are more than 8000 MLC/IHA employees in Okinawa. They are paid, for the most part, by the Japanese defense budget to work for the Americans. Could a redeployment of GSDF employ those people? Most likely not. I do wish the populist Governor of Okinawa would show more concern for his own people rather than the nightly news bite.

    • Murasaki

      Can we please remove all US military from Japan, this occupation has been going on for too long.

      As for Gary’s comment about the JAL Flight that crashed. It was NOT a foreign Military aircraft from a occupying force. It was a Japanese commercial flight over Japan and would you kindly show respect for these 520 lost souls and do not use their death in your political point scoring game.

      • ff

        Oh for crying out loud. Don’t they teach basic history in schools anymore?

        After WW2, the US, with some assistance from the Allies, *OCCUPIED* Japan until 1951. During this time the US helped Japan rebuild and also defined Japan’s current political system.

        After the occupation, the US continues to maintain several large military bases in Japan because of its strategic importance during the Cold War. Today some of the bases have been shut down but a many still remain in active use. For instance, during the first and second Gulf Wars in Iraq, stealth bombers were launched from Japan. We are there at the invitation of the Japanese people and government. If they want us to leave we will. Look at the Philippines, they asked us to leave in 1992 and we did. 3 years later China took one of their islands. And today, the Philippines is having a lot of trouble protecting it’s islands from Chinese aggression. They are even asking us to come back. Now replace China with North Korea who is very willing to shoot off missiles into the Sea of Japan. What is stopping them from pointing nuclear missiles at Seoul and Tokyo, and saying “Give us aid, or we fire”? What is stopping North Korea and China are the good ole’ United States of America. Without us, many of our Asian allies would have much more trouble dealing with China, and North Korea. I for one am for the status quo.

      • Starviking

        The lost souls of flight 123 should be used in a point scoring game: US forces at Yokota had located the wreck and were on standby to help when the Japanese government told them to return to base, as their help was not needed. The JSDF had major problems locating the wreck, and when they finally found it they said there were no survivors. Thus the rescue started the next day, where many who survived the initial crash were found to have died of exposure overnight.

      • Steve Novosel

        That was almost 30 years ago, Starviking, so is completely irrelevant no matter how you cut it.

      • Desk Pilot

        While I don’t necessarily disagree about over relevancy, the “30 years ago” comment you make is irrelevant. The Okinawans constantly talk about all the crashes since 1972. What’s the difference?

      • Steve Novosel

        One is an accident by a domestic commercial airliner, all the others are by a foreign military on Japanese soil.

        Why is this hard for people to understand why this would be controversial? Should it be JSDF bases on Hawaii that had aircraft crashes, don’t you think that would be controversial? Don’t you think comparisons to say AA191 would be totally irrelevant?

      • Starviking

        No it is not. US forces were willing to help and were given the cold shoulder. People died. There should be outrage against this, people should be in jail, but because of this eternal need for the Japanese to be always placed as the victim this incident has to be swept under the rug.

        I’m not a US Citizen, but it is irking that any good work the US does, or tries to do, is ignored in time – but ridiculous demands over accidents that can occur to any aircraft operator get spewed up whenever it involves the US.

      • Steve Novosel

        People died almost 30 years ago, mate. It’s sad, but not cause for outrage 30 years later.

      • Starviking

        I can see that point of view, but I take the approach that if something was covered up, or not diligently investigated then outrage is appropriate. There’s a series of underage sex cases in the UK at the minute involving cases that went back 40 years. They caused outrage when they were first reported this year, and rightfully so.

      • Steve Novosel

        This is a bit different – the JL123 situation has been discussed for almost 30 years. There’s nothing new in it.

      • Starviking

        I don’t think we’ll be able to agree with this. There certainly is something that still needs to be uncovered in the JL123 accident – who told the US Forces to back off, and why did the Japanese Press not pursue the matter?

  • Toolonggone

    SOFA vs. Japanese Constitution… and SOFA always wins out.

    • Desk Pilot

      Keep drinking the kool aid. The SOFA isn’t all powerful as the media and “experts” make it out to be. If it was, there wouldn’t be all the American servicemen sitting in Japanese jails that are there.

      • Toolonggone

        Then, you should stop turning on the air-conditioner in your room all day.

        Not the case for Japan. History clearly shows that the agreement allowed many US servicemen to be exonerated from any wrongdoings or misdemeanor. It really has stood in the way of investigation and justice. It’s just recent that we began to see Japan’s legal system rejecting its power to grant suspected servicemen exoneration from legal prosecution at civil court. This, however, never means that Japan would toughen their legal scrutiny toward them in future.

  • Desk Pilot

    Quit blaming the SOFA and quit blaming the US. The Government of Japan holds the power, if it wanted to exert it, to lessen the “burden” and do a lot of other things. It’s the Japanese government that is holding back. The SOFA doesn’t prohibit crap.