Dangers of MCAS Futenma not limited to Ginowan, helicopter’s blade tape falls onto Uranishi Junior High

Dangers of MCAS Futenma not limited to Ginowan, helicopter’s blade tape falls onto Uranishi Junior High

June 6, 2019 Ryukyu Shimpo

On June 5 the U.S. Marine Corps confirmed that an object from a helicopter stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma (MCAS Futenma) fell onto the grounds of Uranishi Junior High School in Urasoe City, Okinawa. The object was a piece of blade tape from one of the helicopter blades, and due to its size and weight it “poses no threat to people or property.” However, something falling from an aircraft could easily cause bodily harm and lead to a serious incident.

In December 2017, too, a window from a CH-53E helicopter stationed on MCAS Futenma fell onto the nearby Futenma Daini Elementary School. This most recent falling part incident has made people recognize anew the dangers of MCAS Futenma, and has intensified concerns involving safety in Okinawa and municipalities surrounding MCAS Futenma.

One of MCAS Futenma’s airfield traffic patterns exists over Uranishi Junior High School in Toyama, Urasoe City, onto which the rubber piece from a U.S. military aircraft fell on the afternoon of June 4. Some U.S. military aircraft that take off from or land on the south side of MCAS Futnema fly directly over the school. This falling object incident has vividly demonstrated the dangers faced by not only Ginowan City, where MCAS Futenma is located, but by municipalities near the air station over which its traffic patterns exist.

According to the results of a U.S. military aircraft track study, which were released by the Okinawa Defense Bureau (ODB) in December 2018, there are flight paths over municipalities including Urasoe City, Nakagusuku Village, and Kitanagusuku Village. After the U.S. military helicopter crash on Okinawa International University in 2004, the U.S. and Japanese governments reviewed flight paths in the vicinity of MCAS Futenma, and decided to avoid the air space over private land to the degree possible. Although there are established traffic patterns in the air surrounding MCAS Futenma, it has been confirmed that flights largely divert from these paths.

Due to the blade tape the U.S. Marine Corps let fall on June 4 being lightweight, it has been argued that the tape “poses no threat to people or property.” Yet, due to successive incidents including a CH-53E helicopter’s window falling onto Futenma Daini Elementary School, and the issue of an aircraft part being found on Midorigaoka Nursery School in Nodake, Ginowan City, there are deep-rooted concerns for the safety of residents in the areas surrounding MCAS Futenma.

In December 2018 the ODB publicized results on its website from the U.S. military aircraft track study around MCAS Futenma. Yet, there was a request from the U.S. to discontinue the results’ availability to the public. A U.S. official stated that it is essential to take into account risks faced by the U.S. military in the international community, and to more seriously consider preservation of information relating to the use of aircraft. These results are no longer publicly available on the ODB website.

(English translation by T&CT and Erin Jones)

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