Governor Onaga demands helipad removal as U.S. resumes flights of helicopter model involved in Takae fire incident

Governor Onaga demands helipad removal as U.S. resumes flights of helicopter model involved in Takae fire incident

A CH-53E heavy-lift transport helicopter takes off from Futenma Air Station in Ginowan City, marking flight resumption at 10:42 a.m. on October 18. (Photograph by Manato Akira)

October 19, 2017 Ryukyu Shimpo


Operations of CH-53E heavy-lift transport helicopters at Futenma Air Station were suspended following the recent incident of a U.S. military helicopter catching fire in Takae, Higashi Village.

On October 18, the U.S. Marine Corps resumed flights of these aircraft. In response to this, Governor Takeshi Onaga expressed for the first time his intention to demand removal of the six helipads in the Northern Training Area (NTA), which envelops Takae.

Onaga said to a group of reporters: “We feel [the helipads] should not be used and we earnestly desire their removal.”


Without any explanation from the Japanese government about an investigation into the cause of the accident or preventative measures, the U.S. forcing flight resumption has led to backlash first from within Okinawa, and then from other municipalities in succession.

Governor Takeshi Onaga


The U.S. military personnel who have been dismantling the aircraft wreckage on-site appear to have begun hauling the fuselage away as of October 19.


At 10:42 a.m. on October 18, the first CH-53E helicopter since the suspension took off from Futenma Air Station.

In the afternoon there were repeated take-offs and landings of these aircraft.

The aircraft that experienced issues in the sky over Takae was confirmed to be the same model as those which have now resumed operations.

U.S. military personnel have been working with heavy machinery to remove the fuselage from the site of the accident.

On October 18 at the Prefectural Office, officials from the prefectural government and the Okinawa Defense Bureau (ODB) held a press conference in regards to the results of a radiation survey in the vicinity of the wreckage.

They issued a declaration of safety as no abnormal readings were detected at the site. At the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly Building in Naha City, Governor Onaga spoke to a group of reporters and objected to the forced flight resumption, “I absolutely cannot accept the U.S. military’s stance, it’s outrageous.

” He made the point that allowing the U.S. military to respond in this way also throws the Japanese government’s culpability into question.

Therefore he strongly recommended that the government shoulder its responsibility and engage the U.S. persuasively.


Onaga commented further, “There is no way an investigation to determine the cause [of the incident] could be completed under the circumstances.

” Finally, he lamented the current state of affairs in Japan, where the government will push forward as though the investigation into these matters has already finished.

Minister of Defense Itsunori Onodera said to a group of reporters at the Ministry of Defense that the resumption of flights was “regrettable.

” Onodera rejected Onaga’s call for removal of the helipads, explaining that the construction of new helipads was a precondition for the return of more than half of the NTA to Okinawa, which has taken place.

He mentioned his desire to request that the U.S. military take care to conduct its operations safely.

On October 17 the U.S. military explained that the Self-Defense Force personnel dispatched from the Ministry of Defense were engaged in preventative measures and similar activities.

However, Onodera considered the U.S. military’s explanation to be lacking detail.

He said, “My stance that flights should be suspended until safety is confirmed remains unchanged.” Mayor Atsushi Sakima of Ginowan City, where Futenma Air Station is located, said during an interview at Ginowan City Office that, “City residents are feeling anxious.

” He said with resentment, “It is extremely regrettable that flights took place while their safety was not properly confirmed.”


(English translation by T&CT and Erin Jones)


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