Two Marine Corps helicopters were forced to conduct emergency landings in Japan’s Okinawa Prefecture since Saturday, further inflaming tense relations between the people of the island and the American military presence operating nearby.
On Monday, a U.S. Marine Corps AH-1 attack helicopter was forced to make an emergency landing at a waste disposal site near a hotel in Yomitan, Japan. No injuries were reported, and the two man-crew were able to evacuate the aircraft safely. According to reports, the crew were forced to bring the helicopter down for an emergency landing after a “warning light came on.”
Only two days prior, a Marine Corps UH-1 helicopter from the same installation, the Futenma air station in Ginowan, was also forced to conduct an emergency landing on a beach on Ikei Island, a small islet in Okinawa. That emergency landing was reportedly due to a rotor issue.
These emergency landings are the latest in a rash of high-profile failures of Marine Corps aircraft in the region, including one incident in which a window fell out of a CH-53 helicopter and into a school yard, injuring one child.
“There will be more incidents unless we remove U.S. military bases from Okinawa,” said Kazumi Nakasone, a 67-year-old local resident living near the scene. That sentiment has long been present in Okinawa, but has been gaining traction in the face of repeated incidents involving Marine Corps helicopters.
In keeping with what has become common practice, senior officials in the Okinawa Prefectural Government are expected to request a halt of all AH-1 and UH-1 flights over populated areas of Okinawa as a result of this weekend’s incidents. They did the same following two helicopter incidents in October and December of last year.
“A feeling of distrust is mounting among Okinawa people as these incidents vividly illustrate that the U.S. military’s measures to prevent similar accidents are not functioning.” The assembly wrote in a statement submitted to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. Ambassador to Japan William Hagerty in late December.
Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, commander of U.S. military forces in Okinawa, reportedly offered his personal apologies to Okinawa Deputy Gov. Moritake Tomikawa by telephone following Monday’s incident, though it seems unlikely that it will stem the long-lasting resentment of American forces once again on the rise in Okinawa.
“We’ve seen too many incidents. It’s natural that people in Okinawa are worried about safety,” Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said on Monday, adding that the Japanese government will urge the U.S. military to take action to prevent any further incidents.
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