Japanese police ask to question crew of helicopter that crashed on Okinawa
February 20, 2005
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The U.S. military has rejected a request by Japanese police to question Marines involved in the Aug. 13 crash of a helicopter in Ginowan.
Responding to news reports that the United States has not responded to the request, made in December by the National Police Agency, U.S. Forces Japan spokesman Col. Victor Warzinski said that under the status of forces agreement between the United States and Japan, the U.S. military has sole responsibility for investigating aircraft accidents involving only U.S. military aircraft.
“Frankly, I’m surprised the Japanese government has asked us,” Warzinski said Friday morning. “They know the agreement as well as we do.”
The Daily Yomiuri reported that the National Police Agency requested USFJ permission to interview the crew of the CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopter that crashed on the grounds of Okinawa International University. Police officials were unavailable for comment Friday afternoon.
In October the U.S. military released a report saying the accident was caused by a failure to insert a cotter pin in the tail rotor assembly during routine maintenance. An investigator said a member of the maintenance crew, who apparently was suffering from sleep deprivation, neglected to reinstall the pin.
The $14.5 million helicopter exploded into flames, injuring the three crewmen. No civilian injuries were reported, although there was scattered property damage to cars and homes in the surrounding residential neighborhood. Marines blocked local police from accessing the crash site to conduct their own investigation. Local authorities were not allowed to inspect the site until after the debris was removed.
Okinawa prefectural police are investigating whether the accident was a violation of Japanese aviation safety laws.
In a related matter, a subcommittee of the U.S.-Japan Joint Committee released a report Thursday concerning the August incident that recommended the Joint Committee review flight paths at MCAS Futenma and prevent repeated accidents caused by maintenance failures by ensuring proper procedures are followed when maintenance crews are relieved.
The panel of officials from the Japan Foreign Ministry, Defense Facilities Administration Agency and USFJ was set up shortly after the crash. Its report confirmed earlier reports by U.S. investigators that the mishap was a maintenance failure.
Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.