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Futenma-based Osprey drops part in latest aviation incident on Okinawa

An MV-22B Osprey with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 262 flies over Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan, Nov. 28, 2017.

ANDY MARTINEZ/U.S. MARINE CORPS

By MATTHEW M. BURKE AND HANA KUSUMOTO | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 9, 2018

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — No injuries or damage has been reported after a large piece from a Marine Corps aircraft was lost this week off the coast of Okinawa.

Part of an air intake from an MV-22 Osprey washed ashore Friday on the western beach of Ikei Island, said a spokesman for Okinawa Defense Bureau, which is a branch of Japan’s Ministry of Defense. The piece, which came from the aircraft’s right engine, is 2 feet long, 3 feet wide and 2 feet deep.

The helicopter-plane hybrid assigned to Marine Corps Air Station Futenma reportedly lost the part during a flight Thursday but was able to return safely to base.

The Marine Corps on Okinawa confirmed Friday that the part had fallen from one its Ospreys, bureau officials said. It’s unclear whether Marine officials alerted their Japanese counterparts about the incident, which they are required to do by the status of forces agreement between the two nations.

Marine Corps officials could not be reached for comment on Friday evening. Bureau officials said they would continue to investigate the incident.

A series of recent aircraft-related mishaps, including three emergency landings by Marine helicopters in January, has drawn criticism from Tokyo, which dispatched Japan Ground Self-Defense Force aircraft maintenance specialists to Futenma on Feb. 1 for a briefing on the issues.

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 Futenma’s fence line. More than 50 schoolchildren were playing at the time, and a 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 was found on the roof of an Okinawan day care facility. In October, a 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.

In August, an Okinawa-based MV-22 Osprey crashed off the coast of Australia during a training exercise, killing three Marines.

At a maritime security forum last month in Washington, D.C., Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said the service’s safety record was “horrible” in 2017 but that things were improving.

Okinawans are largely divided when it comes to hosting about half of the U.S. military’s 50,000 Japan-based troops and their aircraft. Deadly aviation accidents in the past have sewn anxiety and fear over the possibility of a crash or falling debris.

Tokyo and its allies in Washington have tried to consolidate U.S. forces on the island and hand back large swaths of bases and territory to satisfy detractors. They plan to relocate Marine air operations from densely populated Futenma to Camp Schwab on Okinawa’s remote north coast as soon as a runway can be built into Oura Bay to facilitate the move.

A small but fervent protest movement backed by Okinawa’s governor wants to move Marine air operations off the island, but has so far been unsuccessful.

The movement suffered a major blow on Feb. 4 when Nago’s anti-base mayor Susumu Inamine was defeated by former Nago assemblyman Taketoyo Toguchi, who is supported by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party. Abe has since vowed to press on with the relocation plan.

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

 

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