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Editorial: Osprey accidents show need to protect Okinawans from danger

A serious accident involving a U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey aircraft has occurred in Okinawa Prefecture. The aircraft, which belongs to the Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, plunged into the sea about 80 meters off the city of Nago, and was badly damaged.

It is only natural that at the request of the Japanese government, U.S. forces have decided to temporarily suspend flights of Ospreys until the aircraft's safety is confirmed. U.S. forces should thoroughly clarify the cause of the accident, proactively release relevant information on the case and implement measures to prevent a recurrence. The Japanese government is urged to make sure all these steps are taken without fail.

According to U.S. forces, the accident occurred while the Osprey aircraft was being refueled in a drill while airborne at night. After a propeller on the Osprey sustained damage after cutting off a refueling hose, the pilot reportedly chose to make a forced landing in the shallow waters off Nago to avoid plunging into the ground. U.S. forces have denied that the accident was caused by problems with the aircraft and emphasized that it was not a crash.

However, the aircraft might have crashed into a private home and resulted in a catastrophic incident if something had gone badly wrong.

Ospreys are aircraft that can vertically take off and land and are said to be difficult to control. Even if there had been no defects with the aircraft, it does not immediately mean that the planes are absolutely safe. It subsequently turned out that another Osprey had belly-landed at the Futenma base that same night because of a problem with its landing gear. It is abnormal that two accidents involving Ospreys occurred in the same prefecture on the same night. Local residents should not be exposed to danger posed by U.S. forces any further.

Moreover, comments that Lt. Gen. Lawrence D. Nicholson, the top U.S. military officer in Okinawa, made about the accident have offended Okinawa residents. In response to a protest lodged by Okinawa Vice Gov. Mitsuo Ageda over the crash-landing accident, Nicholson was quoted as saying that Japan should be grateful that the pilot of the Osprey did not damage nearby homes or injure residents. Nicholson even said the pilot should be commended.

It is difficult to stably maintain U.S. bases in Okinawa unless U.S. forces empathize with the feelings of Okinawa residents, who have shouldered the excessive burden of U.S. bases and suffered from noise pollution caused by U.S. military planes as well as accidents and crimes involving U.S. servicemen stationed in the country's southernmost prefecture. Nicholson's remarks are extremely inappropriate, raising questions as to whether he is qualified to serve as the Okinawa area coordinator and commanding general of III Marine Expeditionary Force.

The Japanese government should lodge a complaint with Nicholson and demand that the commander retract his comment and offer a formal apology for his remarks.

U.S. forces plan to deploy Ospreys at Yokota Air Base in suburban Tokyo, while the Ground Self-Defense Force is also poised to introduce the aircraft. Such being the case, the latest accidents are a problem involving all of Japan.

The latest accidents once again demonstrated that the bilateral status-of-forces agreement has blocked Japanese authorities from conducting an investigation into accidents involving the U.S. military. U.S. forces will draw the curtain on the accidents after conducting their own probe, and Japan will have no choice but to accept the outcome of the U.S. investigation. The status-of-forces accord needs to be reviewed to open the way for Japanese authorities to investigate accidents involving U.S. forces in Japan.

Next week, the Supreme Court will hand down a ruling on a legal battle between the central and Okinawa prefectural governments over the relocation of the Futenma base to the Henoko district of Nago and a ceremony will be held to mark the return of part of the U.S. forces' Northern Training Area to Japan, also in the prefecture.

The top court is expected to rule in favor of the national government in the lawsuit over the Henoko relocation. The central government has aimed to give the public the impression that the burden of U.S. bases on Okinawa will be reduced through the partial return of the Northern Training Area before resuming work on the Henoko relocation. However, the accidents will likely make it difficult for the national government to go ahead with the relocation work at its own discretion.

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