U.S. military resumes chopper flights amid safety fears after accident

The U.S. Marine Corps in Okinawa resumed flight operations for its CH-53E transport helicopters on Wednesday despite safety concerns and local protests following the crash-landing of one of the aircraft last week. A CH-53E took off Wednesday morning from the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, where the choppers are based. The resumption of flight operations, only a week after the accident in the southern island prefecture, drew rebukes from the Japanese and Okinawa governments despite the U.S. Marines confirming on Tuesday the safety of the CH-53Es. Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga said in a statement that he "absolutely cannot tolerate" the U.S. military's stance, describing the resumption as "reckless" and saying the military failed to clarify the cause of the accident and explain what preventive measures they will take. He urged the central government to address the issue. In Tokyo, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters it was "extremely regrettable" that the same type of helicopter as the one that crash-landed is flying again when the central government has not been provided with sufficient information as to why the U.S. military had judged CH-53Es were safe to operate. The minister had demanded an "indefinite period" of suspension until safety is ensured. Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, the commanding general of U.S. Marine Corps Forces in Japan, issued an order last Thursday morning for a "96-hour operational pause" for all CH-53E helicopters. But on Tuesday evening, the U.S. Marines said they will resume flight operations for CH-53Es, saying in a press release that Nicholson is "satisfied that the CH-53E aircraft is prepared to return to safe flight operations" and that the decision "was not taken lightly." "Aviation experts have conducted a thorough review of the maintenance records and found no issues with the standard maintenance practices, actions, technical directives, periodic inspections and no operational matters to warrant concern," the statement said, without touching on preventive measures. On Oct. 11, a CH-53E burst into flames as it made an emergency landing near the U.S. military's Northern Training Area on the main island of Okinawa. None of the seven crew members or local residents were injured. But the accident site in the village of Higashi was a few hundred meters away from residential houses, reigniting concerns among local people over the risks they face living near U.S. military facilities. Okinawa hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan.

10 hours ago | KYODO NEWS