The U.S. military in Okinawa has resumed flying the type of transport helicopter that just last week dropped a large metal part onto a school playground in Ginowan. The U.S. military has explained — and the Japanese government has accepted — that the accident was due to human error by the chopper's crew and not linked to any mechanical problem with the aircraft. But given that the mishap — involving an elementary school — could have had grave consequences, a fundamental solution should be considered to prevent such incidents from ever happening again.

On the morning of Dec. 13, a square-shaped metal window frame, measuring 90 cm by 90 cm and weighing 7.7 kg, fell from a CH-53E helicopter out of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma when it was flying over the Futenma No. 2 Elementary School. The frame landed in the playground where 54 children were taking part in physical education classes, with the nearest student about a dozen meters from where it hit. It was only good fortune that nobody was hurt. As Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said, it was an accident that caused anxiety among Okinawa residents and should never have happened.

The window frame was on the right side of the pilot's seat and is used for emergency escape. The Defense Ministry quoted the U.S. forces as explaining that the frame fell off because the crew failed to notice that the window lever had not been securely fastened with a wire and then the lever was accidentally shifted to the escape position. Although a U.S. Marine commander apologized to the Okinawa Prefectural Government and the school, the U.S. forces have fallen short of promising that aircraft from the Futenma base will no longer fly over local schools, saying only that they will try as much as possible to avoid such flight paths.