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U.S. to temporarily halt Osprey flights following crash-landing off Okinawa

Remnants of a U.S. military MV-22 Osprey aircraft that crash-landed in the water along the coast of the Abu district of Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, on the night of Dec. 13, 2016, are seen in the background in the early hours of the following day. (Photo courtesy of The Ryukyu Shimpo)

NAGO, Okinawa -- Operations of U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Ospreys will be temporarily halted in Japan, U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy told Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida on the morning of Dec. 14 following the crash-landing of one of the aircraft off the coast of the prefectural city of Nago.

Two of the five crew members on the Osprey aircraft that crash-landed on the night of Dec. 13 off the east of Okinawa's main island were injured, in the first Osprey crash since the aircraft was introduced at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the prefectural city of Ginowan in 2012.

During a 15-minute telephone conversation, Kishida called for the suspension of Osprey flights until their safety can be confirmed, to which Kennedy responded by stating that Osprey flights would be provisionally suspended as a result of consultations with U.S. forces. She added that Washington would make close arrangements with Tokyo before resuming Osprey flights.

The Japanese Defense Ministry quoted the U.S. government as explaining that the Osprey in question was conducting an aerial refueling drill above waters near the crash site and that the pilot of the aircraft decided to conduct a landing in shallow water after being forced to choose between that option and returning to the Futenma air base due to a malfunction.

On the morning of Dec. 14, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters at his office that the crash-landing was "very regrettable." He said he would strongly urge the U.S. to investigate the cause and to take further safety measures. "The safety of Osprey flights is a major condition" for their operation, he said.

According to the Ministry of Defense, the Japan Air Self-Defense Force's Naha Air Base received a U.S. military distress signal at around 9:30 p.m. on Dec. 13 and dispatched two planes to search. At around 1:45 a.m. on Dec. 14, the 11th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters found the Osprey in shallow waters around 80 meters from the coast of Nago. The location was a few kilometers northeast of the Henoko area of Nago which is supposed to be the relocation site for Futenma Air Base, and it was outside of the waters provided for use by the U.S. military.

The crash-landing caused heavy damage, ripping off the wings from the body. It is possible the craft went out of control and crashed.

The Osprey has been plagued by accidents since it was in the development stage, and there will unavoidably be a rise in protests against the aircraft by Okinawans. The Okinawa Prefectural Government had authorized construction work at Camp Schwab, which is to be the transfer site for the Futenma base, but it may now take a more hard-line, anti-relocation stance.

The U.S. military first deployed 12 Ospreys at the Futenma base in October 2012. Currently there are 24 such aircraft assigned to the base.

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