U.S. forces in Japan resumed flights of Osprey transporters on Monday, after the aircraft had been grounded in response to a crash-landing off the coast of Nago, Okinawa Prefecture.
However, considering the fact that the Osprey aircraft crash-landed due to damage to its propellers while conducting an air refueling exercise, U.S. forces will suspend the same kind of training for the time being.
In the prefecture, there is strong opposition to the lifting of the flight suspension less than one week after the crash-landing.
On Monday morning, Maj. Gen. Charles Chiarotti, the deputy commander of U.S. forces in Japan, visited the Defense Ministry to give notice of the resumption of Osprey flights, saying the aircraft itself was not the cause of the accident.
Defense Minister Tomomi Inada showed understanding toward his explanation, as the U.S. military has inspected all the aircraft and confirmed there was no problem.
The Okinawa prefectural government was informed of the flight resumption by the ministry’s Okinawa Defense Bureau.
Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga criticized the resumption at the prefectural government building on Monday morning, telling reporters: “It’s outrageous behavior. This is something ridiculous.”
“Not even a week has passed since the accident,” said a 74-year-old farmer who lives near the site where the Osprey crash-landed. “I cannot help but feel anxious about it.”
The Osprey aircraft in question suffered damage when the propellers touched the hose of a refueling plane while conducting air refueling training several tens of kilometers off Okinawa Island at around 9:30 p.m. on Dec. 13. As the flight became unstable, the pilot changed the destination from Futenma Air Station in Ginowan in the prefecture to U.S. Camp Schwab in Nago in the same prefecture, and made an emergency landing offshore to avoid residential areas.
The U.S. military grounded the Osprey in Okinawa Prefecture from Dec. 14 in response to a request from the Japanese government.
U.S. forces in Japan explained to the ministry that the cause of the accident was a collision of the hose and the propellers due to air turbulence and there was no problem with the aircraft itself.
“U.S. forces gave us a rational explanation, concerning the situation where the accident took place and its cause,” said a Defense Ministry official at a press briefing on Monday morning. “We understand the resumption.”
According to the ministry, U.S. forces explained that the accident was related to air turbulence. The ministry also researched the weather conditions and found strong wind was blowing around the Okinawa Island.
The official said, “The details of the cause are continuing to be investigated.”
The U.S. Marine Corps in Okinawa, which would respond to an emergency on the Korean Peninsula or other areas in the region, is said to be one of the most practical response forces among U.S. forces in Japan. Osprey aircraft are the main transporters responsible for transportation of personnel and materials among the U.S. Marine Corps in Okinawa.
“Early resumption of the Ospreys is unavoidable for U.S. operations,” a senior official of the Self-Defense Forces said.