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US Defense Sec. Mattis apologizes for Marine helicopter mishaps in Okinawa

A U.S. Marine AH-1 Super Cobra attack helicopter that made an emergency landing in Yomitan, Okinawa Prefecture, on Jan. 8, 2018 takes off the following morning. (Mainichi)

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis apologized to his Japanese counterpart Itsunori Onodera on Jan. 9 over repeated mishaps with U.S. military helicopters in Okinawa Prefecture, including a Jan. 8 emergency landing by a U.S. Marine AH-1 Super Cobra.

Onodera held telephone talks with Mattis to demand that the United States take fundamental steps such as thorough inspections and maintenance to prevent further incidents. Mattis was quoted as telling Onodera during the some 30-minute conversation that he was fully aware that there had been continuing accidents and apologized for the problems, adding that he would treat the issue as a serious priority.

During the conversation, Onodera apparently listed accidents with U.S. Marine helicopters that have struck Okinawa since late last year. Those included a CH-53E Super Stallion that crash-landed and burst into flames in the village of Higashi on Oct. 11, a window falling from another CH-53E onto a school playground in the city of Ginowan on Dec. 13, and an emergency landing by a UH-1 helicopter on Jan. 6 in the city of Uruma, as well as the Jan. 8 Super Cobra emergency landing.

According to Onodera, he demanded on Jan. 8 that the U.S. military conduct emergency inspections of all its aircraft based in Japan.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a Jan. 9 news conference, "It is highly regrettable that there have been a number of accidents," while Minister of State for Okinawa and Northern Territories Affairs Tetsuma Esaki commented, "The incidents are so frequent, it is extremely regrettable."

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