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Okinawa gov't urges US forces to suspend all local flights after window falls from chopper

A CH-53E helicopter, the same type as the one from which a window fell, is seen at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, on Dec. 13, 2017. (Photo courtesy of the Ryukyu Shimpo)

NAHA -- The Okinawa Prefectural Government has urged U.S. forces in the prefecture to suspend all flights following the fall of a window from a U.S. military CH-53E helicopter onto a school playground.

It is extremely rare for the prefectural government to demand all U.S. military flights in Okinawa be suspended, according to prefectural government officials.

Vice Gov. Moritake Tomikawa summoned Brig. Gen. Paul Rock Jr., commander of the Marine Corps Installations Pacific, to the prefectural government headquarters in Naha on Dec. 13, and strongly protested to him over the incident.

The vice governor pointed out to Rock that it was a serious accident that threatens people's right to life, which is guaranteed by the Constitution of Japan.

Tomikawa then urged the commander to suspend flights of all U.S. military aircraft in Okinawa until all U.S. forces planes are thoroughly inspected and their safety is confirmed.

Rock reportedly explained to the prefectural government that U.S. forces have suspended flights of CH-53Es.

Noting that Dec. 13 marked one year since a U.S. military Osprey transport aircraft made an emergency landing off Nago and was badly damaged, Kiichiro Jahana, manager of the Executive Office of the Governor at the prefectural government, said, "Even if U.S. forces say they are inspecting their planes, prefectural residents wouldn't trust them."

After inspecting the incident scene, Gov. Takeshi Onaga expressed anger at the case. "It's outrageous and intolerable that the object fell into the center of an elementary school. We must tell the central government and U.S. forces about the need to review the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, which is unreasonable and discriminatory," the governor told reporters.

Onaga will visit Tokyo on Dec. 14 to lodge a protest with the national government and other parties concerned.

Etsuko Kyan, principal of the Futenma No. 2 Elementary School in the city of Ginowan, where the incident occurred, expressed shock at the accident. "Neither the teachers nor the children are mentally prepared to resume physical education classes," she said.

What is thought to be an acrylic window with a metal frame measuring about 90 centimeters on each side fell from the left side of the cockpit of a CH-53E helicopter and landed in the playground of the school on the morning of Dec. 13.

None of about 60 children who were on the playground for a physical education class was injured although one of them, who was only about 10 meters away from the scene, was apparently hit by a small stone.

The incident prompted the school to hold a general assembly of children and allowed all of them to go home earlier than scheduled.

There have been 67 cases in which parts fell from U.S. military aircraft since Okinawa's reversion to Japan in 1972 to the end of November this year, according to the prefectural government.

In August 2004, a CH-53 plunged onto the campus of Okinawa International University, located near U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, and burst into flames. Another CH-53 made an emergency landing on a grassy farm field in the prefectural village of Higashi and was badly damaged in October 2017. On Dec. 7, a cylindrical object believed to be a part of a CH-53 was found on the premises of a day care facility near the base.

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