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U.S., Japan have draft agreement on control of aircraft crash sites

By DAVID ALLEN AND CHIYOMI SUMIDA | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 2, 2005

In talks following the August crash of a Marine helicopter on an Okinawa university campus, Japan and the United States tentatively have agreed to give Japanese officials more control of U.S. military aircraft crash sites.

The draft agreement, reached Wednesday in Tokyo by a subcommittee of the U.S.-Japan Joint Committee, is expected to be approved formally Friday, said a spokesman for Ministry of Foreign Affairs Okinawa Liaison Office.

Wednesday’s agreement “includes how to control the accident sites in cases where U.S. military aircraft have accidents in civilian areas,” said spokesman Masaki Takaoka.

The need for a guideline revision came to light when a Marine Ch-53D Sea Stallion helicopter crashed on the Okinawa International University campus on Aug. 13. Okinawa officials complained Marines kept local police and firefighters from the crash scene and barred them from on-site crash investigations.

Three helicopter crewmembers were injured and the school’s administration building was badly damaged. No civilians were hurt, but helicopter wreckage damaged property in the densely developed neighborhoods nearby.

“The highlight of the guidelines will be the greater involvement of Japanese authorities to maintain order in areas surrounding the accident site,” Takaoka said Thursday. “The outer periphery of an accident site will be controlled by Japanese authorities to maintain order, holding back onlookers and the general public.”

U.S. and Japanese authorities will control the inner peripheries jointly, he said.

“At the outer periphery, an access checkpoint will be set up, where representatives of both the U.S. and Japanese sides will check authorized personnel onto the accident site,” he said.

Responses to media will be handled jointly, Takaoka added. The agreement also calls for training U.S. and Japanese personnel jointly to ensure the guidelines are implemented smoothly.

Takaoka said Japanese officials originally sought the guidelines in response to “public frustration” over how the August accident was handled. The revised agreement, however, was “the fruit of the shared views between Japan and the United States,” he said.

Stated a U.S. Forces Japan news release: “Both sides expressed appreciation for the productive discussion on this matter and shared the view that proper implementation of the guidelines would play a significant role for the improvement in accident site cooperation.”

The Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Accident Site Cooperation met at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo.

Brig. Gen. Bradley Baker, vice commander of U.S. Air Forces Japan, and Kazuyoshi Umemoto, deputy director of the North American Affairs Bureau of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, chair the committee. Other participating Japanese agencies include MOFA, National Police Agency, Ministry of Justice and Defense Facilities Administration Agency. U.S. agencies involved in the talks include the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Forces Japan.


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