NAHA -- Okinawa prefectural officials and locals in the city of Ginowan are outraged after learning on Dec. 18 that the U.S. military planned to resume CH-53E transport helicopter flights and that the Japanese government had assented, five days after a window from one of the aircraft fell onto a Ginowan primary school playground.
"Where or to whom am I supposed to express my anger?" said Mitsuo Chinen, the 63-year-old head of the Kiyuna district council in Ginowan, where the Futenma No. 2 Elementary School is located. The helicopters "cannot be allowed to fly over schools. It's such a pity that children cannot feel secure even going outside to play. I feel like they are restarting (CH-53E) flights so soon because they look down on Okinawa."
On Dec. 18, U.S. Marine Colonel Darin Clarke visited the school next to the Marines' Air Station Futenma to apologize for causing unfathomable trouble and anxiety. He also promised that aircraft at the Futenma base would avoid as much as possible flying over the school.
However, Principal Etsuko Kyan told Col. Clarke that "'as much as possible' isn't good enough. I want to hear you say that you won't fly over the school, period."
Some of the locals' ire was reserved for the Japanese government, with one 63-year-old electronics shop owner commenting, "A (central) government that can't say anything to the U.S. military invites only distrust. I really want to ask Diet members from other prefectures, 'What would you think if something like that fell out of the sky in your area?'"
After the Dec. 13 accident, Okinawa Prefecture demanded that all U.S. military aircraft in the prefecture be grounded for emergency maintenance checks, and that they stay out of the air until their safety was confirmed. Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga traveled to Tokyo to register his anger with the Japanese government and demand that the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe put pressure on the U.S. military.
A press release from the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing carried on the U.S. Forces, Japan website declared the window incident "was caused by human error," and that "all CH-53E aircraft have been thoroughly inspected, to include ensuring there are no mechanical or structural problems associated with the windows." The press release also said, "The appropriate procedures for ensuring the window was secured were not correctly followed. We have conducted additional training to reinforce these procedures with our aircrews and maintenance crews."
Okinawa Prefectural Assembly member Seiryo Arakaki, who represents Ginowan, told the Mainichi Shimbun, "If it was human error, that doesn't make it OK. Every time there's an accident, the U.S. military says it will carry out measures to prevent a recurrence. And yet the accidents don't stop. I doubt the recurrence countermeasures will have any effect this time, too."
Meanwhile, Gov. Onaga told reporters at a news conference at the prefectural headquarters, "As many prefectural residents continue to live with anxiety due to repeated U.S. military accidents, I cannot accept that U.S. forces are trying to sweep away the most recent incident with the same old response, nor the Japanese government's move to approve this."
On the U.S. Marines' pledge to avoid as much as possible flying over the school, Onaga stated, "All I can say is, 'I can't believe that.'" On the Defense Ministry's approval of resumed CH-53E flights, the governor said, "If another accident happens because of this approval, will the ministry really take responsibility?"