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The wreckage of a Marine Corps CH-53D Sea Stallion smolders an hour after it crashed into a building at Okinawa Kokusai University on Aug. 13, 2004. Three crewmembers were injured in the accident, which occured close to Futenma Marine Corps Air Station.

The wreckage of a Marine Corps CH-53D Sea Stallion smolders an hour after it crashed into a building at Okinawa Kokusai University on Aug. 13, 2004. Three crewmembers were injured in the accident, which occured close to Futenma Marine Corps Air Station. (Dave Ornauer / S&S)

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION FUTENMA, Okinawa — Two Marine CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopters were to return to the air here Friday, drawing objections from the local mayor, who demanded a halt to all air operations following last August’s helicopter crash on the campus of Okinawa International University.

The Okinawa Marine Corps public affairs office announced late Thursday the Marines would begin post-maintenance check flights on the two Sea Stallions prior to redeploying the aircraft to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni.

“The aircraft are currently based in Japan as part of the Unit Deployment program,” spokesman 1st Lt. Eric Tausch said in a press release. “The aircraft were deployed from MCAS Iwakuni to Futenma last year to support an operational deployment of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.”

The helicopters are assigned to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 464, based at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.

“Forward-based Marine Corps helicopters, to include the CH-53s, significantly contributed to the recent delivery of more than 9.4 million pounds of relief supplies to tsunami survivors in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand,” Tausch said. “Additionally, Okinawa-based Marine helicopters from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit participated in the on-going stabilization efforts that resulted in the successful elections in Iraq.”

On Aug. 13, one of the Sea Stallions veered out of control after the tail rotor and a section of the tail rotor pylon detached due to the failure of a maintenance crew to reinstall a cotter pin, according to a command investigation into the accident.

The $14.5 million helicopter clipped the administration building wall on the university grounds adjacent to MCAS Futenma and burst into flames. The three crewmembers were injured, but no civilians were harmed.

Still, the accident proved the location of the air station in the middle of urban Ginowan was an “accident waiting to happen,” according to Ginowan Mayor Yoichi Iha.

“It is absolutely unacceptable for the two helicopters of the same model to begin post-maintenance check flights,” Iha said Friday. “It is our duty, as the city administration, to protect the lives and property of our citizens and exclude the possibility of another disaster.

“It is therefore absolutely unacceptable that any flight activities take place at the air station, where there are no other approaches except over residential areas.”

“Since the aircraft mishap, all CH-53D helicopters have received thorough and complete safety and maintenance inspections,” Tausch said.

The Sea Stallions resumed mission essential flights Sept. 30, and three of them returned to Iwakuni Oct. 26.

“The remaining two CH-53Ds helicopters were awaiting special-ordered parts,” Tausch said. “Post maintenance engine and flight checks are mission essential and are required to prepare the squadron for redeployment.

“A date for their return to MCAS Iwakuni has not been set.”

Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.


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