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Editorial: US forces need to improve safety after fallen chopper window incident

A window of a U.S. military CH-53E transport helicopter fell onto the playground of the Futenma No. 2 Elementary School adjacent to U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, on Dec. 13, evoking anger and rage among parents of the students and local residents.

About 60 pupils were taking part in a P.E. class at the time of the incident, indicating that the fallen object could have triggered a serious disaster. Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga rushed to the scene upon hearing about the news.

The U.S. military admitted that the object fell from one of its aircraft and released an apology. U.S. forces are strongly urged to carry out a thorough investigation to get to the bottom of the incident and introduce safety measures to prevent a recurrence of similar incidents.

The latest mishap has once again highlighted the danger posed by the Futenma base, whose property accounts for roughly a quarter of Ginowan's land area and is surrounded by residential quarters and public facilities such as schools and hospitals. The Futenma No. 2 Elementary School lies just next to the airstrip over a fence. For all these reasons, the base has been labeled "the most dangerous base in the world."

The Dec. 13 incident came less than a week after an object belonging to a U.S. military helicopter was found on the rooftop of a day care center near the Futenma base. The parents of children at the center are calling for U.S. military aircraft to stop flying over the facility.

As of Dec. 1 this year, there had been 67 cases of parts from U.S. military aircraft falling onto the soil of Okinawa over a 45-year period since Okinawa's reversion to Japan in 1972, according to the Okinawa Prefectural Government.

Earlier this year, parts belonging to an F-15 fighter jet and a cutting-edge F-35 stealth fighter both from the U.S. Kadena Air Base in Okinawa Prefecture are suspected to have fallen during their flights.

Amid growing tensions surrounding North Korea, the U.S. military is said to be carrying out a series of intense drills to improve the skills of its troops. This raises suspicions that the inspection and maintenance of U.S. military aircraft have been left sloppy due to accumulated fatigue. U.S. forces are urged to thoroughly ensure safety measures.

In 1959, when Okinawa was still under U.S. control, a U.S. fighter crashed onto the grounds of an elementary school in Uruma, killing 17 people including students. That incident still remains deeply etched into the memory of Okinawa residents.

The removal of the danger posed by the Futenma airstrip is an issue of utmost priority. In the meantime, the central government and the Okinawa Prefectural Government remain at odds over the base's relocation to the Henoko district of the prefectural city of Nago -- a plan endorsed by both Tokyo and Washington.

Anti-base sentiment among Okinawa residents grows each time an accident involving U.S. forces occurs in the prefecture, making the Henoko relocation appear even more difficult. This means the goal of eliminating risks posed by the Futenma airfield will only become more distant.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga lashed out at the U.S. military for the elementary school incident, saying, "This is the kind of thing that must not happen." The government is urged to fulfill its responsibility to resolve its standoff with Okinawa Prefecture over the relocation issue and bring about the reversion of the Futenma base land to Japan without any further delay.

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