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USFJ apologizes after another helo flies over Japanese school

This image from an NHK broadcast shows a window from a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter after it fell onto an elementary school sports field near Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa, Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017.

SCREENSHOT FROM NHK

By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 23, 2018

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — U.S. Forces Japan has issued an apology after an American military helicopter again flew over the Okinawan elementary school where a window fell from a Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion onto a playground in December.

A helicopter overflew Futenma Daini Elementary School, which sits along Marine Corps Air Station Futenma’s northern fence line, at about 3:30 p.m. Friday, according to a USFJ statement released over the weekend.

“Although U.S. Forces voluntarily ceased flights over the school to the greatest extent possible, a U.S. helicopter inadvertently overflew the school,” the statement said.

In the Dec. 13 incident, a window measuring approximately 3 feet by 3 feet inexplicably separated from a Super Stallion and fell onto a sports field at the school. More than 50 students were on the field at the time, and a boy was slightly injured by a pebble that flew up during impact.

A week earlier, workers had discovered a small cylindrical part from a Super Stallion on the roof of Midorigaoka nursery school, which is about 300 meters from Futenma.

Staff members and parents from the nursery school traveled to Tokyo earlier this month to complain that helicopters were still flying over their facility.

“Every day U.S. military helicopters and Ospreys fly over our nursery school,” headmaster Takehiro Kamiya told reporters during a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan on Feb. 14. “There have been no apologies and no explanations of any kind to date.”

Last month, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis apologized to his Japanese counterpart, Itsunori Onodera, for a string of recent aircraft mishaps, including the emergency landings of Okinawa-based Marine Corps helicopters. He also vowed to address the “important” issue of aircraft safety.

During their call, Onodera reportedly asked Mattis — a retired Marine four-star general — to take additional measures to prevent future mishaps.

USFJ’s statement said an investigation is underway to determine the facts and circumstances surrounding the latest overflight to prevent such incidents from happening again.

“USFJ is working closely with Japanese counterparts at all levels to transparently share information as soon as it becomes available,” the statement said.

robson.seth@stripes.com
Twitter: @SethRobson1

 

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