After mishap, Yomitan mayor demands end to copter training over town
YOMITAN, Okinawa — The dropping of an old van from a Marine helicopter into the ocean off Okinawa’s west coast Wednesday has drawn a protest from the mayor of Yomitan.
Mayor Keizo Yasuda on Thursday presented his complaint to Army Col. Kenneth Lundgren, commander of Torii Station in Yomitan, demanding the U.S. military cease helicopter training over his town.
Marine officials say the stripped van was being lifted by a CH-53E Sea Stallion helicopter from Torii Station to an offshore target range when it was released for safety reasons. No one was injured and the van had been drained of any hazardous material.
According to a Marine Corps press release, Marines were to attempt to locate and extract the vehicle once weather conditions permitted.
“The safety of our pilots, crews, and the neighboring communities is of paramount concern at all times in the operation of U.S. Marine Corps aircraft,” the release stated. “The flight path of the helicopter was planned over water to avoid any populated areas.”
Yasuda said he remains concerned.
“Such training, like lifting vehicles in a civilian area, is very dangerous,” he said in a statement released to the press.
“I am deeply troubled … the site where the vehicle was released from the helicopter is near a tourist facility, where whale sharks are kept.”
Yasuda also presented his protest to the Naha Bureau of the Defense Facilities Administration Agency, but bureau Director Tsutomu Sato said he would not ask the U.S. military to halt such training.
“The activities by the military are necessary to achieve the purpose of the bilateral security treaty,” he said.