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Another US military helicopter forced to make emergency landing on Okinawa

An AH-1Z Viper attack helicopter lifts off at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa, Feb. 3, 2017.

MATTHEW M. BURKE/STARS AND STRIPES

By MATTHEW M. BURKE AND HANA KUSUMOTO | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 8, 2018

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — No injuries or damage was reported Monday after a Marine Corps helicopter — the second in three days — was brought down on Okinawa because of an emergency.

An AH-1Z Viper assigned to Marine Corps Air Station Futenma made an emergency landing at about 4:45 p.m. inside a fenced-off, grassy area at a private waste disposal site in Yomitan village, an Okinawa police spokesman said. It was put down on the northern side of Hotel Nikko Alivila by its two crewmembers after a warning light came on. No smoke or flames were reported.

The Marines said in a statement that the helicopter had been repaired and would return to base as quickly as possible.

"We remain committed to both the safety of our neighbors in the communities in which we live and the safety of the Marines who fly on our aircraft," it said.

The emergency comes on the heels of a similar incident Saturday, where a UH-1Y Venom from the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing made a “preventive landing” just after 4 p.m. on an Ikei Island beach. A warning light indicated excessive speed from its main rotor.

The Viper — dubbed the most advanced attack helicopter in the world by the Marines — has been in the Pacific only a little more than a year. With advanced systems that include a fully integrated air-to-air missile capability, Viper pilots can run safety diagnostics while the helicopter is airborne and diagnose issues before they become a problem. The airframe has been heralded for its safety features since coming to the island.

A similar incident involving a Viper happened Jan. 20, 2017, when one of the attack helicopters made a precautionary landing on an isolated farm road on Ikei Island, after a warning indication in the cockpit. There were no injuries or damage.

Viper pilots said that incident proved the strength of the aircraft, because they were forewarned of a potential problem in time to put it down safely. They also said the helicopter’s computerized systems made it easy to download flight data, which is passed to maintenance teams who can identify irregularities.

The emergency landings on Saturday and Monday are the latest in a string of U.S. military aircraft mishaps on or around the southern Japanese island prefecture that have led to heightened safety concerns among Okinawa’s local population.

On Dec. 13, a CH-53E Super Stallion’s window inexplicably became separated from the aircraft and landed on an elementary school sports field adjacent to Marine Corps Air Station Futenma’s fence line. More than 50 schoolchildren were playing at the time, and one boy was slightly injured from a pebble that flew up during impact.

On Dec. 7, a plastic part thought to belong to a U.S. military helicopter landed on the roof of a local day care facility, leading to protests in front of U.S. military facilities.

In October, a 1st Marine Aircraft Wing Super Stallion made an emergency landing in a farmer’s field outside Okinawa’s Northern Training Area after an inflight fire. The aircraft was an almost total loss. The incidents over the past few days could embolden Okinawa’s small but potent protest movement, which is backed by Gov. Takeshi Onaga, and lead to renewed demonstrations against U.S. military aircraft and plans to relocate Marine air operations within the prefecture, from Futenma to Camp Schwab in Okinawa’s remote north.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

burke.matt@stripes.com
kusumoto.hana@stripes.com

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