Editorial: After U.S. helicopter crash off Okinawa Island, Japan and U.S. should stop joint exercises and work to uncover the cause

January 27, 2020 Ryukyu Shimpo

How many accidents will it take before we see real “prevention of reoccurrence”?

On the afternoon of January 25, a U.S. military MH60 helicopter crashed in the sea roughly 174 kilometers to the east of Naha Airport.

This is the 51st crash since Okinawa returned to Japan in 1972.

After each crash, the U.S. military and Japanese Ministry of Defense talk about “preventing a reoccurrence,” but repeat the reckless act of resuming aircraft operations before investigating the accident and uncovering where responsibility lies.

This situation is intolerable for Okinawans, who live side by side with U.S. military bases on this small island and spend every day of their lives with U.S. military aircraft flying overhead.

The aircraft that crashed was assigned to the Blue Ridge ship of the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet, which is based at the U.S. naval base in Yokosuka, Kanagawa. However, helicopters of the same type have been repeatedly witnessed engaging in training over the U.S. military’s Northern Training Area (NTA) spanning from Kunigami to Higashi, as well as over former NTA land that has been returned to Japan.

Blue Ridge, which carried the helicopter that crashed, was not observed to have called at any port in Okinawa, but was supposedly anchored off the east coast of Okinawa Island.

Shortly after 5 p.m. on the same day, the Okinawa prefectural government received news of the crash from the Japanese Self-Defense Forces. Fortunately, the five crew members on the helicopter survived.

The U.S. military said that the MH60 was involved in “routine operations” at the time of the crash, and has not revealed any details.

Around Okinawa, a vast area of 54,937 square kilometers of sea, 27 areas including Area Hotel/Hotel, are provided to the U.S. military as training waters.

What kind of training the U.S. military carries out there is entirely hidden from public knowledge. To Okinawans, this constitutes a true black box.

Moreover, the Ministry of Defense describes the accident not as a “crash” but as a “water landing.”

The MH60 does not function as a seaplane and by definition cannot perform a “water landing.” The U.S. military’s official announcement states that the helicopter “went down,” implying a fall or crash, yet the Japanese government still chose this wording.

Its response calls to mind the MV22 Osprey crash near Abu, Nago in December 2016.

When the Osprey washed up a wreck on the shore with its nose broken off and its wings nowhere to be seen, the Ministry of Defense explained that it had carried out an “emergency landing,” a phrase it revised to “emergency water landing” when it was pointed out that the Osprey had gone down in the water.

It is hard to stomach the government’s attempt to minimize the issue. Its description of the present crash as a “water landing” has the same intent.

Since the day of the accident, the U.S. Navy has been carrying out Japan-U.S. joint training exercises with the Japan Ground Self-Defense Forces at its Blue Beach training area in Kin and over the waters around Okinawa.

These exercises are suspected of being related to the crash, but a representative of the Ground Self-Defense Forces asserted there is “no relationship,” and the exercises continue.

It has been pointed out that U.S. military aircraft have been aging since the military budget reduction in 2013, and this could be a cause of increased accidents.

Okinawans are the ones threatened by this increase in accidents, and the ones who will suffer the costs.

Japan and the U.S. are continuing their joint exercises in spite of the occurrence of this accident; they should stop the exercises and focus their efforts on uncovering the cause of the accident and informing the public.

(English translation by T&CT and Sandi Aritza)

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