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Resumption of CH-53E chopper flights 1 week after crash angers Okinawans

The wreckage of a U.S. military CH-53E helicopter is seen in the Takae area of Higashi, Okinawa Prefecture, on Oct. 12, 2017. (Mainichi)

GINOWAN, Okinawa -- The U.S. military ignored the voices of the Okinawan people and resumed flights of the same type of helicopter that crash-landed and went up in flames on privately owned land in the Takae district of the northern Okinawa prefectural village of Higashi just one week ago.

Without heeding the Okinawa Prefectural Government's demand that the U.S. military ground its CH-53E transport helicopters, and without adequate explanation about the cause of the latest accident, a CH-53E chopper took off from U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma here on Oct. 18.

Okinawa Prefecture residents are outraged at the U.S. military for resuming flights of the same type of aircraft that crash-landed, and also at the Japanese government for not being assertive enough toward the U.S. military.

"They've resumed flights in just a week, without even announcing the cause of the accident. Who does the U.S. military take the people of Okinawa for?" fumed 80-year-old Ginowan resident Motonobu Nakamura, the former principal of an elementary school located adjacent to Futenma, the air base to which the helicopter that crash-landed had belonged. "The Japanese government should demand -- not just on the surface, but in earnest -- that the U.S. military immediately stop flying the helicopter."

"Our voices calling for the flights to be stopped have gone ignored. The U.S. military probably thinks that because the media is busy covering the upcoming House of Representatives election, Okinawans are the only ones who will protest the resumption of operation of helicopters, and that the rest of the country will soon forget about it," Yoshitaka Shinjo, 50, the chairman of a neighborhood association in the Nodake district of Ginowan, said. "We live under circumstances in which a helicopter could come crashing down on a residential area at any time. I want not just of the same type of helicopter that crash-landed, but of all helicopters to be grounded."

Hiroshi Ashitomi, 71, a co-leader of the Anti-Helicopter Base Council, criticized the Japanese government. "I wish the government would speak for Okinawa and tell the U.S. military, 'Don't fly over the northern Okinawan forests,' which includes a major source of water. But I don't feel that the government is taking the initiative to truly protect the lives and property of the people of Japan."

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