Okinawa wants US military to suspend flights over schools & hospitals after helicopter incident
Okinawa authorities have demanded that the US military suspend flights over Japanese schools and hospitals, after two recent incidents involving parts falling off American aircraft, one of which left a child injured.
On Thursday, the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly unanimously adopted the document in protest against the increasing number of incidents with US military aircraft. The resolution says that a feeling of distrust is mounting among Okinawans, as these incidents “vividly illustrate that the US military’s measures to prevent similar accidents are not functioning.”
The document adds that “no more threat to the lives of people in Okinawa should be tolerated,” and will be sent to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and US Ambassador to Japan William Hagerty. Similar resolutions were passed by individual municipal assemblies in Okinawa.
A series of incidents involving US troops has triggered protests on the island and condemnation from citizens and local officials. The latest accident happened on December 13, when an American CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopter lost a metal-framed window while flying over an elementary school adjacent to the US Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station. The helicopter part, weighing 7.7kg (17lb), fell on the schoolyard, where 54 pupils were playing, and injured a young boy.
The school demanded the US military “not fly over in any event,” rejecting US apologies and promises to avoid such incidents in future. Earlier in December an object that fell from a US aircraft was discovered on the roof of a nursery school in the same area.
The governor of Okinawa, Takeshi Onaga, demanded “drastic” and “fundamental” changes in the Japan-US Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) to combat the “significant anxiety” the locals are experiencing amid the American presence. In October, the Japanese Defense Ministry vowed to ground all flights by CH-53E transport helicopters in Okinawa for an "indefinite period," after one of them crash-landed on the island.
Faulty military aircraft and crashes are not the only issues provoking public outrage in Okinawa, where American military personnel have been involved in rape and murder scandals. The latest occurred in November, when a US marine killed an elderly civilian in a drunk-driving accident.