MCAS Futenma Relocation Issue

MCAS Futenma Relocation Issue

U.S. military helicopter crashed in the Okinawa International University campus, at around 15:02 pm on August 13, 2004, in Ginowan City (Photo courtesy of Hideo Miyazato).

Fifteen years on since the Futenma agreement between US and Japan – “Level of risk to residents unchanged.”
April 12, 2011 by Teppei Ikeda, Ryukyu Shimpo.

Ginowan City – 15 years have passed since Japan and the United States agreed that the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma would be returned to Okinawa in 2006. During that period, on August 13, 2004, a U.S. military helicopter crashed into a building at Okinawa International University.

The Ginowan Municipal Office has published a brochure illustrating the dangers posed by the Futenma Air Station to local residents. The cover of the brochure features a photograph taken shortly after the helicopter crash by 47 year-old Hideo Miyazato, who is quoted as saying, “The dangerous situation that we face has not changed at all in the last fifteen years. The voice of citizens calling for the elimination of the risk of accidents does not seem to have got through to the Government.” He is dismayed at the situation and demands the closure of the Futenma Base and the return of the land to its owners as soon as possible.

Hideo Miyazato looking back on the scene of the helicopter crash from near the spot where he took a photograph, March 11, 2011. Ginowan City.

Moments after the accident occurred, local residents stood stunned in front of the burning helicopter as emergency warning sirens sounded everywhere around them. U.S. soldiers rushed into the University campus, evicting students and administrative staff, and even refusing to give access to local Japanese police. He struggled to comprehend the scenes that he had captured on his camera, saying, “I thought, ‘Surely this can’t be for real.’” Miyazato ran a key shop near the campus, so for him helicopters flying overhead was an everyday occurrence.

“If that helicopter had crashed just a few minutes earlier…” said Miyazato in a voice tinged with horror as he recalled that he had passed by the scene of the accident just five minutes before the crash on his motorcycle taking his 11 year-old son Tatsuki to a nearby cram school. “That was the day that my family realized that we are in constant danger,” he added as he looked back at the scene of the accident. The buildings that were destroyed in the crash were rebuilt and seven years later Tatsuki, then an elementary school pupil, is now a university student. Miyazato said, “Our memories of that day have gradually faded, but we have no assurance that our family will not be caught up in such an accident. I shudder at the thought.”

Miyazato stated, “I think the fact that the Government is trying to move the facilities at Futenma to Henoko in the northern area of Okinawa against the will of the people will make it difficult to resolve the Futenma issue within the next 15 years.” He emphasized, “We are concerned about the safety of our families. The Government should try to scale down the size of the base without building a new facility and should eliminate the risk to local society as soon as possible.”

(English Translation by T&CT, Mark Ealey)

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