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NAHA, Okinawa — Prefectural police Wednesday forwarded their investigative report on the August 2004 crash of a Marine helicopter in Ginowan to the Naha District Public Prosecutor’s Office.

The report recommends criminal charges against four unnamed Marine mechanics — identified only as two sergeants and two corporals — for failing to follow safety procedures for maintaining a CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopter that crashed Aug. 13, 2004, on the campus of Okinawa International University.

However, no indictments against the mechanics are expected, Japanese officials said Thursday.

Forwarding the charges was a formality, a police spokesman said. The statute of limitations for filing charges against anyone involved in the crash was to expire Aug. 13.

Originally, police wrapped up their investigation in May, with no charges recommended. Under the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement, Japan did not have primary jurisdiction over the case because the accident occurred during the performance of the Marines’ duties.

No civilians were injured in the crash, which a military investigation determined was caused by the failure to install a cotter pin in the tail rotor during routine maintenance of the aircraft.

The helicopter spun out of control and crashed on the campus, which is adjacent to Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. As it fell, its rotors dug into the wall of the school’s administration building and the structure was heavily damaged by fire. It since has been razed and replaced by a new $7 million building.

Helicopter parts were found scattered throughout the nearby residential neighborhood, but there was no major damage to other structures.

A Marine Corps spokesman would not discuss disciplinary action taken by the military against the maintenance crew.

“Due to Privacy Act restrictions, we are unable to release personal information on any individuals involved in the crash of the CH-53D in 2004,” said 1st Lt. Garron Garn, a spokesman for Marine Corps Bases Japan.

A spokesman for the Okinawa Liaison Office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Thursday the U.S.-Japan Joint Committee was informed in February 2005 that the four members of the maintenance crew were court-martialed for dereliction of duty.

“According to the report, two of them were sentenced to forfeiture of half a month’s pay for two months and given a letter of reprimand, and the other two were demoted one rank,” he said.

Ginowan Mayor Yoichi Iha said the maintenance crew was not solely responsible for the crash.

“The root cause of the problem is the military flight activities taking place over residential areas and the Japanese government which allows it to happen,” he said. “It has been three years since the accident, yet helicopters continue to fly over our skies daily, causing much fear for our residents who dread the possibility of another accident.”

Garn defended the Marine Corps’ safety record on Okinawa.

“The U.S. Marine Corps takes safety seriously at all levels and demands the highest standards from those Marines involved in aviation operations and maintenance,” he wrote in response to a Stripes query.


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