HIGASHI, Okinawa -- A day after a U.S. Marine Corps CH-53E transport helicopter crash-landed and burst into flames in the small community of Takae here on Oct. 11, residents faced off with local police nearby the scorched remains of the aircraft.
Protesters yelled and chanted such demands as "Ground all U.S. military aircraft!" and "Remove the helipads!"
Some 130 people live in the Takae district of the northern Okinawa village of Higashi, where six helipads were built surrounding the community by the end of 2016. The pads were built in exchange for the U.S.'s return of part of the Northern Training Area, also known as Camp Gonsalves. District residents passed resolutions in 1999 and 2006 objecting to the helipads' construction.
The helicopter went up in flames on land owned by pig farmer Akira Nishime. The 64-year-old has some 1,000 pigs on the farm, which was started by his father. Too busy with work, he had been unable to join the helipad protests. However, now that his fears about an accident have become reality, "I just don't want U.S. aircraft flying over us. It is the wish of all of Okinawans to have military bases out of here," he said.
Takae residents held an impromptu meeting on the night of Oct. 12 in response to the latest helicopter accident, and passed a resolution to demand that the Okinawa Defense Bureau stop the U.S. military's use of the helipads surrounding Takae.
Meanwhile, a council of Okinawa residents opposing the relocation of U.S. military bases within the prefecture and other groups staged an emergency demonstration on the same day in front of the gate of Camp Foster, where the Marine Corps Installations Pacific is headquartered. According to rally organizers, some 300 people participated, declaring that they "will not abide (U.S. military) crashes."
"I bet that the aircraft will take to the skies again without a thorough investigation into the cause of the accident. And I bet there will be more crashes. Just thinking about it is horrifying," 65-year-old Hiroji Yamashiro, co-director of the council and head of the Okinawa Heiwa Undo Center (Okinawa peace movement center), said to the demonstrators. "But we must fight to keep protesting and raising our angry voices to stop such activity."