Okinawa’s two major dailies continued to report extensively over the weekend and on Monday morning on the latest incident involving a CH-53 helicopter near the Northern Training Area on Thursday, focusing on the fact that an unspecified radioactive material was used in the indicators for the helicopter’s rotor blades. Although the U.S. military has retrieved the material in question, the dailies echoed the strong concern of local Okinawans, with Okinawa Times saying that firefighters engaged in operations to extinguish the fire without knowing about the radioactive material. The paper said the U.S. military failed to comply with a bilateral guideline established following the crash of the same type of helicopter at a local college campus in 2004, holding the U.S. military responsible for swiftly providing the Japanese side with information on whether an aircraft is carrying hazardous materials or weapons that could impede rescue or firefighting operations.
Okinawa Times separately reported on Saturday that Okinawa Vice Governor Tomikawa visited the U.S. Embassy on Friday and asked U.S. military officials to go to the prefectural government office to provide a briefing on the incident. Asked by reporters afterward about how the prefectural government would respond if the CH-53 flights were resumed after the 96-hour suspension, the vice governor said: “We definitely want U.S. military officials to come to our office to provide an explanation. Visiting our office is crucial for maintaining a friendly relationship between the U.S. and Japan. If they fail to do so, it would have various negative effects.”
The same daily also claimed that Prime Minister Abe, who it described as having been relatively indifferent to Okinawa issues up until now, firmly instructed GOJ officials to follow up on the latest mishap very closely without relying on the U.S. military. The paper quoted a GOJ source as saying that the premier did this with the ongoing general election campaign in mind. The article said SDF personnel with expertise on aviation accidents were allowed by the U.S. military to enter the cordoned off area a day later, quoting a MOD source as saying: “Thanks to the strong U.S.-Japan relations, the arrangement became possible in response to the GOJ’s strong request. Our initial response was a success.”