Marines say site of August copter crash on Okinawa not hazardous
Stars and Stripes December 31, 2004
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — No high-risk levels of hazardous materials have been identified in the area where a Marine CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopter crashed in August, according to Marine officials.
“Soil, ground water and radioactivity surveys of the August 13 CH-53D helicopter accident site at Okinawa International University were completed by the Japan Chemical Analysis Center and Nansei Environmental Research Center,” Marine 2nd Lt. Eric Tausch stated in a press release Wednesday.
“Radioactivity readings were within normal levels and consistent with other areas in Okinawa,” the release stated. “These levels are considered safe and do not pose a health concern.”
The helicopter, assigned to Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 265 at adjacent Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, crashed after the tail rotor and a section of the tail rotor pylon detached from the aircraft.
The rotor blades struck the university building and the helicopter crashed and burst into flames.
No civilians were injured and the crewmembers survived the crash.
A 1st Marine Air Wing accident assessment blamed a maintenance crew for failing to re-install a cotter pin on a bolt following a routine adjustment on the tail rudder flight control.
The crash prompted protests calling for closure of Futenma, located in the middle of an urban area. The United States and Japan agreed to close the air station once a new base is constructed in the waters off Okinawa’s rural northeast shore, adjacent to Camp Schwab.
However, construction, expected to take a decade or more to complete, has not yet begun at the site.
Some Okinawan officials expressed concern that the crash site might have been contaminated by small quantities of low-level radioactive material, but the surveys uncovered no evidence of depleted uranium, according to the Marine news release.
“Fluorine, lead, benzene, and boron were detected during the surveys,” Tausch stated. “Fluorine compounds, thought to be from natural sources, slightly exceeded the standards specified under Japanese Soil Law. Only low levels of lead, benzene, and boron were detected and each level was below Japanese Soil Law standards.”
Tausch stated “high levels of petroleum products, primarily fuel and oil, were detected in areas adjacent to and within the crash site. The soil with petroleum contamination will be remediated.”
The latest survey is consistent with independent surveys conducted by the Okinawa Prefectural Government and Okinawa International University, he said.
“As a contributing member of the community, the Marine Corps is committed to protecting the environment and is pleased that initial environmental surveys were validated by this most recent survey,” Tausch stated in the release. “Environmental remediation discussions are ongoing between the Marine Corps, the Defense Facilities Administration Bureau and Okinawa International University.”