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NAHA, Okinawa — A beehive of activity at Futenma Marine Corps Air Station on Friday had Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine wondering if U.S. officials are taking his concerns about safety seriously.

“The most important thing is to eliminate the danger,” Inamine said during a brief news conference Friday after returning early from a trip to Bolivia. He said the resumption of flight operations showed that his demand to ground all the aircraft at the air station until an investigation into an Aug. 13 incident was finished was not heard.

“If it (Friday’s flight activity) was for training purpose, it is unacceptable,” he said. “I will strongly demand halt to all flight operations until safety is insured.”

Okinawa government officials said observers watched 17 helicopters — 12 CH-46s, 2 UH-1s and 3 AH-1 Cobras — take off from the air station Friday, a week after a CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopter crashed at a university adjacent to the base. They also reported that 16 of the helicopters landed on the USS Essex at White Beach Naval Facility, where the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit is deploying to the Middle East.

“If the flights were for moving troops and aircraft elsewhere, I would welcome the move,” he said. “I will keep a close eye on the future developments.”

Air operations — except for the CH-53Ds — were resumed Monday while the Sea Stallions continued to be grounded pending safety inspections.

Inamine said he was disappointed that Okinawa police have not been allowed to inspect the wreckage. “It is necessary to have thorough and complete investigation,” he said.

Marine Corps officials announced Friday that all crash debris had been removed from the accident site.

“As of 19 August, the Marine Corps completed its extraction efforts at the site of the accident,” a Marine Corps news release said. “Removal of aircraft debris was necessary to facilitate the ongoing aircraft mishap investigation and to expedite site restoration efforts.

“The command is conducting a complete and thorough investigation of this accident, and all appropriate measures will be taken to prevent any reoccurrence in the future.”

The investigation invited criticism from many Okinawa officials. However, Marine officials said they have acted in accordance with provisions of the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement in restricting access to the crash site at the university campus and removing the debris.

On Friday morning, senior officials of the Okinawa Prefectural Police visited the Marine Corps’ Judge Advocate Office at Camp Foster, requesting that the military conduct an investigation for the police as well, said a police spokesman in Naha. The request would put the police department in the loop for information it can use in its independent investigation.

“The Okinawa Prefectural Police requested the military to determine the cause of the accident by examining the wreckage of the aircraft, which the military had recovered from the site by Thursday,” said the spokesman.

Ginowan Mayor Yoichi Iha filed a protest Friday with the Marine Corps against resumption of flight operations at the air station, according to a spokesman for the city’s Military Affairs Office.

Three crewmembers were injured in last week’s crash, but they escaped the aircraft before it exploded and was engulfed in flames. No civilians were injured, but debris from the stricken craft was found in a densely populated residential area as far as 370 yards from the main wreckage.


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