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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Sailors with metal detectors spent all day Tuesday searching for two machine-gun bullets still at large in Yokohama after a box of 200 bullets fell Monday from a helicopter on its way from Atsugi Naval Air Facility to the USS Kitty Hawk.

“They’re going to look until they find them,” said Brian Naranjo, Atsugi spokesman. “For as long as it takes, until it’s all accounted for.”

The searchers were split into morning and evening crews of about 25 each, Naranjo said. They and the Japanese police had recovered 198 bullets and the box they were in by Monday evening. The box, with the bullets, fell from an Atsugi-based H-60 Seahawk helicopter.

The metal box — about a foot long, 4 inches wide and 8 inches tall — fell from the helicopter around 7:45 a.m. Monday, according to the U.S. Navy in Japan. The box fell shortly after the four-member crew left Atsugi to fly over and guard the Kitty Hawk after the carrier departed Yokosuka Naval Base.

The box fell about 328 yards, then hit a parking lot in Yokohama City’s Izumi Ward. No injuries or property damage were reported. Japanese police and Atsugi sailors had recovered all but five of the bullets by Monday night, Naranjo said. Additionally, a few Japanese citizens found and returned some bullets.

An investigation is under way, according to Commander Naval Forces Japan; no information on how the incident occurred was available Tuesday. Helicopter crewmembers alerted Atsugi officials after the box fell, and naval officials reported the incident to Japanese authorities.

According to Japanese newspapers, Kanagawa police were notified around 12:40 p.m.

On Tuesday afternoon, officials from Yokohama City, Yokohama’s Defense Administration Bureau and Kanagawa Prefecture visited CNFJ to express concern about the matter, said Jon Nylander, a CNFJ spokesman.

“If a thing had gone differently, it could have caused a fatal accident,” the Kanagawa officials’ letter noted. “It is regrettable that this sort of accident would make the residents uneasy.”

The officials, Nylander said, “basically, wanted to know what happened, and to make sure it didn’t happen again.”

Aircraft parts such as bolts occasionally have fallen off, Nylander said, but this is the first time in recent memory that a box of bullets has fallen. Both the spokesman for the Kitty Hawk strike group and its admiral expressed concern Monday that the incident had happened and reiterated their commitment to the safety of Japanese citizens.

“I am gravely concerned,” Adm. James Kelly said in a statement. “We’ll do everything possible to ensure all the bullets are found.”

The bullets are no more or less dangerous than other bullets, officials said: relatively stable but likely to explode if hit hard enough or tossed into a flame and definitely not to be fooled with.

“It’s a live round,” Nylander said.

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
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