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Mayor says rescue chopper crash was 'self-destruction, complete shambles'

Ota Mayor Masayoshi Shimizu (Mainichi)

OTA, Gunma -- The mayor of this city north of Tokyo described the crash of a Gunma Prefecture rescue helicopter that killed all 9 crew members aboard earlier this month as "self-destruction and a complete shambles," according to city officials.

Mayor Masayoshi Shimizu, 76, made the controversial remark at a disaster prevention training drill organized by the city of Ota on Aug. 25, in which the crashed helicopter Haruna was scheduled to conduct rescue training before the accident two weeks prior.

According to the Ota Municipal Government, Shimizu said about the accident, "Those involved in disaster prevention committed self-destruction. I thought it was a complete shambles." The mayor added that he was "sorry for the people on board."

Shimizu said in a statement on Aug. 26 that his remarks came out when he was expressing his disappointment about the helicopter's absence from the training drill. "I don't remember saying those words," he insisted. He also explained that he was thinking that the prefectural government's initial response to the accident was "tardy," and "that thinking may have just come out into words without me realizing it." The mayor insisted that the critical statement was not about the victims.

Shimizu apologized, saying, "I am very sorry if my words caused misunderstanding and made people feel uncomfortable."

A 48-year-old local man who saw the disaster prevention drill said, "I felt the mayor's remarks were inappropriate because the accident claimed many lives."

(Japanese original by Hisashi Aso, Ota Local Bureau, and Atsuko Suzuki, Maebashi Bureau)

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