Eight years after August 13, 2004 U.S. helicopter crash

August 13, 2012 Ryukyu Shimpo

An unthinkable accident for peacetime Japan happened in Okinawa on August 13, 2004. A military helicopter operating out of U.S. Marine Corp Futenma Air Station lost control during a training exercise and crashed on the campus of Okinawa International University.

The memory of the accident remains fresh in people’s minds. Accidents like this should not occur, but because Futenma Air Station is located in the heart of a heavily populated urban area, it was also an accident waiting to happen.

During a visit to Okinawa in November 2003, after observing Futenma from the air, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld referred to it as “the world’s most dangerous base,” and said that the facilities needed to be relocated as soon as possible. His concern was proven to be correct when a U.S. military helicopter crashed on the campus of Okinawa International University less than a year later.

Be that as it may, the risk to residents has remained unchanged. The governments of Japan and the United States have left this matter unresolved for too long and now need to take their responsibility in this matter seriously. The people of Okinawa have sought to have the facilities currently at Futenma moved outside of the prefecture and to have the land returned. However, the governments have ignored the weight of public opinion, and have stuck to their policy of relocating the base within Okinawa.

The Okinawan people have stood up together to demand that the Futenma base be moved out of the prefecture. The two governments should now respond by respecting public opinion and changing their stance in order to close or move the facilities outside the prefecture or overseas. The time has come to change government policy to avoid further confusion on this issue. This August 13, in addition to the recurring nightmare of the crash, the people face a situation in which the governments are about to deploy an aircraft that has inherent flaws.

Operating the MV-22 squadrons out of USMC Futenma is an act of madness. If the governments deploy them despite the weight of public opinion, the people will criticize what is essentially a display of military-first politics. They should not repeat that mistake, and should not misjudge what the Okinawan people think about this matter. We want to redefine who owns the sky above our prefecture – it is the property neither of the U.S. military, nor of the governments of Japan or the United States. The Okinawan people should own it.

A rally to oppose to the Osprey deployment to the Futenma base will be held on September 9 at the Ginowan Seaside Park. The date of the rally was postponed because of an approaching typhoon. Recalling the 13 August helicopter accident and the lessons that we have learned from it, people should take part in the rally in order to stop the deployment of the Osprey and to help achieve the early return of the land occupied by Futenma Air Station.

(English translation by T&CT, Mark Ealey)

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