Committee to review handling of accidents
Following Japanese officials’ complaints that they were given inadequate access to the site where a U.S. Marine helicopter crashed on Okinawa last month, U.S. and Japanese officials agreed this week to work to improve cooperation at any off-base accident site involving U.S military aircraft.
They agreed to form the Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Accident Site Cooperation to make recommendations to the U.S.-Japan Joint Committee, according to a U.S. Forces Japan news release.
Sharing leadership of the panel will be Brig. Gen. Bradley Baker, vice commander of U.S. Air Forces Japan, and Kazuyoshi Umemoto, deputy director of the North American Affairs Bureau, which is part of Japan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry.
“Both sides clearly think it’s a good idea to review this issue or they wouldn’t have created the subcommittee,” said USFJ spokesman Maj. James Bell.
“Ultimately, this can only result in better relations between the two countries and better opportunities to work together on such sensitive issues as this."
No date has been set for the first meeting.
“Because this is a direct result of the backlash from the helicopter accident, the details of what the ad hoc subcommittee will be looking at in its review are still being worked out,” Bell said.
A MOFA spokesman said the subcommittee’s goal will be to work out guidelines covering the roles of Japanese agencies and the extent of local, Japanese and U.S. jurisdiction in such accidents.
After a Marine CH-53D Sea Stallion heavy lift helicopter crashed last month on the campus of Okinawa International University, next to Futenma Marine Corps Air Station, Marines sealed off the site, barring Ginowan and Okinawa officials from entering and preventing Okinawa police from immediately conducting an on-site investigation.
U.S. officials said they were conducting their investigation under the status of forces agreement, which gives the U.S. primary responsibility for securing and removing wreckage involving military accidents occurring outside U.S. bases.
The move angered many Okinawans, including Ginowan Mayor Yoichi Iha. On Sept. 6, Toshimitsu Motegi, minister of State for Okinawa and Northern Territories Affairs, called for new guidelines to jointly handle such incidents.
He said he hoped reviewing current policy would better define the roles of the U.S. military and Japanese police and fire departments in handling such accidents.
—Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.