Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said on Thursday that the U.S. forces in Japan will ground all of its CH-53E helicopters following one of the transport choppers crash-landing near a U.S. base on the main island of Okinawa in Japan's southernmost prefecture.
The incident involved a CH-53E transport helicopter catching fire in midair during a training drill on Wednesday and bursting into flames as it made an emergency landing near the U.S. military's Northern Training Area, just 300 meters away from a residential area.
In a meeting in Tokyo between Onodera and Maj. Gen. Charles Chiarotti, deputy commander of U.S. Forces Japan, Onodera said the incident was "deplorable and had caused considerable anxiety among the residents living nearby and other people in the prefecture."
Chiarotti, for his part, said that as well as grounding the choppers, he would consider measures to prevent further such incidents.
Meanwhile, Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga, a staunch proponent of lessening the U.S. base hosting burdens of the residents of Okinawa, described the incident in the village of Higashi in Okinawa as "horrible."
"I felt disconcerted at seeing the sudden change from ordinary life to this horrible situation. I feel sad," Onaga told local media.
According to informed sources here, the U.S. Naval Safety Center has rated the accident as the most serious "Class A." It said that a fire broke out in the helicopter's engine, which forced it to make crash-landing.
The CH-53E helicopter belongs to the controversial Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Japan's southernmost prefecture of Okinawa.
The base is central to a relocation spat between the local and central government.
Okinawan officials and residents want to see the base relocated outside the prefecture, whereas the central government maintains that relocating it to a coastal region within Okinawa remains the only solution.
(ASIA PACIFIC DAILY)