Support our mission

TOKYO — In a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Wednesday, Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine pressed his demand for air operations at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to cease in the wake of the Aug. 13 crash of a Marine CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopter onto the Okinawa International University campus.

During the meeting with Koizumi, Inamine stressed that the accident increased the fears Okinawan residents had for the air base, which is in the middle of a heavily developed area.

He said he wanted assurances proper safety measures have been taken before normal air operations take place.

Air activities at the base were suspended for two days following the accident, in which three crew members were injured but no civilian casualties were reported.

The Sea Stallions remained grounded until six were cleared for flight Sunday and joined the 31st Marine Expeditionary Force bound for deployment in Iraq.

Okinawa officials protested against resuming the flights and against Marines’ reluctance to let local police inspect the wreckage as part of their independent investigation into the crash.

Some officials, including the mayor of Ginowan, where the accident took place, have called for early closure of the base, which is scheduled to be shuttered once a replacement facility is built on reclaimed land and a reef off northeastern Okinawa.

Construction of that base has not yet begun and could take more than 10 years, Japanese officials have said.

“The accident should never have happened, and it is very important to investigate the cause of the accident completely and to take preventative measures,” Inamine told reporters after the meeting.

He called accomplishing such measures “my greatest responsibility.”

Inamine said the prime minister listened attentively during the meeting and seemed to understand the “difficult” situation.

“I urged the prime minister to visit Okinawa as soon as possible and see the present state of the bases,” Inamine said.

Earlier Wednesday, Inamine met with U.S. Forces Japan Commander Lt. Gen. Thomas Waskow.

The governor said Waskow assured him U.S. forces are investigating the crash and will inform him through the national government of their findings within 30 days.

A U.S. Forces Japan spokesman reached late Wednesday said he could not confirm what Waskow told the governor.

“We’re investigating the crash and we’ll share whatever information we can develop on that as soon as we can release it,” said Col. Victor Warzinski, a USFJ spokesman.

“We’ve been working hard to reassure the Japanese government and the Japanese people that the helicopters are safe.”

—Vince Little and David Allen contributed to this report.

author picture
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.
twitter Email

Stripes in 7



around the web


Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up