Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said on Thursday that the USA forces in Japan will ground all of its CH-53E helicopters following one of the transport choppers crash-landing near a US base on the main island of Okinawa in Japan's southernmost prefecture.
The Marine Corps has ordered a 96-hour operational pause for all Okinawa-based CH-53E Super Stallions after a fire forced one of the helicopters to make an emergency landing Wednesday in farmland outside the Northern Training Area.
In a meeting in Tokyo between Onodera and Maj.
"The accident is regrettable, and I feel sad", Onaga told reporters. "This incident adds to concerns of the people in the prefecture who live side by side with USA bases", Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga said in a statement addressed to Onodera.
Meanwhile, Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga, a staunch proponent of lessening the USA base hosting burdens of the residents of Okinawa, described the incident in the village of Higashi in Okinawa as "horrible".
According to informed sources here, the U.S. Naval Safety Center has rated the accident as the most serious "Class A".
Japan urged the U.S. military Friday to suspend flights of its CH-53 helicopters until safety is guaranteed, after one of them burst into flames in Okinawa.
Onodera said the United States had agreed to his request.
Many Okinawans have always been frustrated with noise, crimes and accidents connected to US bases, with the prefecture hosting the bulk of USA military facilities in Japan.
The helicopter that crash-landed Wednesday also belongs to the Futenma base.
On Friday morning, four Japanese Self-Defense Force members with expertise on helicopters visited the accident site in the village of Higashi to gather information on the incident. The CH-53E is a large transport helicopter used by U.S. Marines, which can carry up to 55 personnel in addition to seven crew members.