20 August 2013

One week after crash, Marines resume Osprey deployment to Okinawa


The U.S. Marines resumed deployment of the Osprey aircraft on Aug. 12 to Okinawa Prefecture, one week after a different military rescue helicopter crashed in a mountainous area of Camp Hansen, heightening safety concerns.

After the accident, the Marines announced they were delaying deployment of 10 Osprey aircraft to U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture.

However, eight of the tilt-rotor aircraft, which takes off and lands like a helicopter and flies like an airplane, left Iwakuni at about 8 a.m. on Aug. 12 and arrived at Futenma by about 10:30 a.m., angering local officials.

"I called for a review of deployment plans for close to a year so I feel totally powerless because there has been absolutely no change in the circumstances," said Mayor Atsushi Sakima of the densely populated city of Ginowan, where Futenma is located.

About 200 local citizens gathered in front of a gate to Futenma before the arrival of the eight Osprey to protest the continued deployment. Some shouted, "Osprey, go home."

The Marines had planned to deploy an additional 12 Osprey after deploying an initial 12 aircraft last year. Of the additional Osprey, two landed in Futenma on Aug. 3. Initial plans had called for dispatching more Osprey on Aug. 5, but the crash of the HH-60 helicopter on a training exercise, in which one crew member died, disrupted that timetable.

Further deployment of the Osprey was delayed, but the Marines have still not announced the cause of the Aug. 5 accident.

At around 7 a.m. on Aug. 12, a Marines official said the decision had been made to resume deployment of the Osprey after close coordination with the Japanese government. The Osprey lifted off from Iwakuni about an hour later. The two remaining Osprey in Iwakuni will likely also be moved to Futenma in the near future.

Okinawa prefectural government officials were notified about the resumption of the Osprey deployment before 7 a.m. on Aug. 12 by officials of the Okinawa Defense Bureau.

"The anger of the Okinawa people has heightened because of the helicopter crash at Camp Hansen," said Susumu Matayoshi, head of the Okinawa governor's office. "The deployment of the Osprey will undoubtedly increase the feeling the Okinawan people already have about the base being a burden into a very strong one."

Meanwhile in Tokyo, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters, "We will think first about the daily lives of residents. We will make every effort to reduce the burden on Okinawa."