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The residents in northern Hiroshima prefecture lodged complaints last week about noise made by Marine helicopters in low-altitude night-flight drills.

Hiroshima Gov. Yuzan Fujita wrote a letter of protest to Ambassador Howard Baker at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, protesting the helicopters of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Training for the 31st MEU helicopters ended last Friday, Marine Master Sgt. Leah Gonzalez, a U.S. Forces Japan spokeswoman, said Monday.

“It is unlikely the helicopters violated any altitude laws,” she added.

Several types of helicopters comprise the squadron that serves as the unit’s aviation combat element. These include CH-53E Super Stallions, CH-46E Sea Knights, UH-1N Hueys and AH-1W Cobra attack helicopters, according to the MEU’s Web site.

Gonzalez was uncertain which helicopters trained in northern Hiroshima.

Fujita’s letter urged U.S. forces to end the low-flight drills by large helicopters.

“We strongly oppose the drills from the standpoint of resolving the worries and securing the safety of the residents, and we strongly urge these low-flight drills to be put to an end immediately,” Fujita stated in his letter.

On occasion, U.S. forces conduct the night-flight practice. However, the April 14-18 session marked the first nighttime helicopter drill in the prefecture, a Hiroshima spokesman said, adding that the low-flight training took place around 9 p.m. each day.

“We always try to diversify the locations for this type of training so that no one area absorbs all the associated noise,” Gonzalez said.

Residents in the area informed the local government about the noise and vibrations on April 15.

The prefecture spokesman said they were not notified about the drill, which was conducted in the prefecture’s northern end, ahead of time.

In addition, a committee with members from 17 towns and villages sent a letter of protest to Baker and to Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi on Saturday, according to the Chugoku Shimbun. The committee’s letter stated that helicopters also were seen in the prefecture’s eastern part.

Hiroshima prefecture requested that the Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Japan Defense Facilities Administration Agency disclose the status of all low-altitude training by aircraft, and stop them based on information from witnesses gathered by local governments since 1997. Also, it has sent similar requests to the ambassador’s office since 2000, the spokesman added.

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Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.
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