Seven Injured After US Military Helicopter Crashes Off Okinawa, Japan

During a training mission carried out by the US military on Wednesday, one of their helicopters crashed off the coast of Okinawa, Japan, injuring 7 people.

Japanese officials are demanding an investigation into the accident. The US Pacific Commander has issued statements that the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter did not, in fact, crash, but instead performed a “hard landing” on the USNS Red Cloud about 20 miles east of Okinawa. The first figures to be released stated that 6 people were injured, but that has now been revised. The injured parties were transported immediately to a U.S. naval hospital at Camp Foster on Okinawa.

Broadcasted images by Japanese national broadcaster NHK show the damaged helicopter with its rear rotor completely severed. Originally, Japanese assistance had been sought in the search and recovery of the helicopter and its 17 crew members. However, Yosuke Watanuki, the Okinawa coast guard spokesman, said that Camp Foster military police later called off the request. It was approximately 1:46 p.m. (12:46 a.m. ET Wednesday) that the incident occurred during the training mission, and military officials state that the exact cause is still being investigated.

The Japanese island of Okinawa is home to the majority of the US military bases in Japan, with about 27,000 of its personnel. The US-Japan post-war defense alliance is the reason for these bases, but many residents of the island object to the presence of tens of thousands of US troops and US military installations. Indeed, the US and Japan are currently in negotiations regarding plans to build a US Marines air base, Futenma, in a less crowded part of Okinawa. A temporary pause on construction was announced by Japan officials until they have resolved the talks between Japan and the island officials, who oppose the move.

Takeshi Onaga, the island’s governor, won office last year largely on his stand against the presence of such US bases. It is the governor’s belief that Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, looks down on the island’s people. Onaga and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga have met to discuss the issues, and Onaga is firm in his stance. Takeshi continues to call for a reduction of the US bases present on Okinawa, Japan, stating that “it is hard for people living near the bases.” Mention of the US military Osprey aircraft that crashed in Hawaii in May was also made.

Suga is in support of the US presence and, after the meeting with the governor, gave a press release.

“This accident is extremely regrettable, the government has strongly requested the U.S. to swiftly provide information, look into causes and prevent a recurrence.”

Legislation granting Japan’s troops permission to fight overseas for the first time since World War 2 has recently passed parliament’s lower house, and is being debated in the upper chamber. Japan has officially started creating military forces once more. Shinzo Abe’s support rate has, however, dropped by 40 percent because of public concerns. The US-Japan post-war defense alliance is not one that the public is overly fond of, and this new accident is adding fuel to the fires of their concern.

[Photo Courtesy of NHK]