Japan expects U.S. to ground CH-53E choppers indefinitely following crash-landing

TOKYO, Oct. 13 (Xinhua) -- Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said Friday that he expects the U.S. military to ground all flights of its CH-53E transport helicopters in Okinawa for an indefinite period of time following the crash-landing of one of the choppers on Wednesday.

Onodera reiterated the fact that in a meeting a day earlier with Maj. Gen. Charles Chiarotti, deputy commander of U.S. Forces Japan, he was assured the flights of the transport helicopters would be suspended.

The defense minister's remarks, however, are at odds with the U.S. Marine Corps in Japan stating Thursday that the CH-53E choppers in Okinawa would be subject to a "96-hour operational pause."

"I asked Maj. Gen. Charles Chiarotti that the period of the pause would be until safety is ensured, and the deputy commander said that's right," Onodera told a press briefing on the matter Friday.

The latest in a string of accidents involving U.S. military aircraft has raised fears among officials and resident in Okinawa, Japan's southernmost prefecture, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military bases in Japan.

"One wrong move could have triggered a serious accident involving civilians. This incident adds to concerns of the people in the prefecture who live side by side with U.S. bases," Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga was quoted as saying in a statement to Onodera.

"They cannot help but feel strong doubts over the U.S. military's aircraft maintenance and safety measures," Onaga added.

Onaga, a staunch proponent of relocating U.S. military facilities outside of Okinawa, also demanded that the transport helicopters be grounded until the cause of the crash is found and effective preventative measures taken.

The latest incident involved a CH-53E transport helicopter catching fire in midair during a training drill on Wednesday and bursting into flames as it made an emergency landing near the U.S. military's Northern Training Area.

The training area is located just 300 meters away from a residential area.


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