NAHA, Japan — The Okinawa prefectural assembly on Monday unanimously adopted a resolution protesting the recent crash-landing of a U.S. military helicopter near a training area in the prefecture and demanding the halt to the use of helipads in the training area.
The resolution said U.S. training exercises over private land have intensified since six helipads were constructed in the U.S. Northern Training Area, some of which are located close to residential areas.
Both the resolution and a statement addressed to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe adopted separately said last Wednesday’s emergency landing by the U.S. military’s CH-53E transport helicopter, at a site few hundred meters away from residential homes, was “on the verge of being a major disaster.”
“It was a great shock to Okinawa residents, who are forced to lead life alongside military bases. The anxiety and fear of local residents are immeasurable,” the assembly said.
In addition to urging the Japanese and U.S. governments to stop the use of helipads, the assembly also called for a halt to training exercises by the U.S. military above privately-owned land in Okinawa.
The CH-53E helicopter is based at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa. The recent crash-landing was the latest in a string of accidents involving U.S. aircraft in the island prefecture, including the Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.
People in Okinawa have long been frustrated with noise, crimes and accidents connected to U.S. bases.
In Wednesday’s accident, the helicopter caught fire in midair during a training flight and burst into flames as it made an emergency landing near the training area. None of its seven crew members or local residents were hurt.
The U.S. Marine Corps in Japan said on Thursday that it directed a “96-hour operational pause” for all CH-53E helicopters stationed in Okinawa.
Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said the following day he expects the U.S. military to suspend flights of the CH-53E in Okinawa for an “indefinite period” until safety is ensured.
In December last year, around 4,000 hectares of forest, or roughly half of the land used for the U.S. Northern Training Area, a place the U.S. military uses for jungle warfare training, were returned to Japan in exchange for the construction of six helipads by the Japanese government.