On Wednesday, a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter made an emergency landing after bursting in flames in midair over Okinawa. Local media reported the aircraft had landed less than two miles from a school. Gen. Charles Chiarotti, deputy commander of U.S. Forces Japan, Onodera said the incident was "deplorable and had caused considerable anxiety among the residents living nearby and other people in the prefecture".
None of its seven crew members or local residents was hurt, but the latest accident, which follows the crash-landing of a US military Osprey aircraft off the Okinawa main island in December, led the prefectural government to lodge a strong protest.
The statement also said locals "cannot help but feel strong doubts over the USA military's aircraft maintenance and safety measures" and demanded that CH-53Es be grounded until the cause of the accident is identified and "effective" preventive steps are taken.
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.
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Japan urged the USA military Friday to suspend flights of its CH-53 helicopters until safety is guaranteed, after one of them burst into flames in Okinawa. One crashed off the eastern coast of Australia in August, leaving three U.S. Marines dead.
Seikyu Iju, mayor of the village, separately inspected the accident site on Thursday. Officials of the USA military told him that it plans to recover the CH-53 helicopter after carrying out an environmental impact assessment, according to the mayor.
"The United States will suspend flights [of that model of helicopters] until they conduct a preliminary investigation and confirm their safety and the cause of the accident", Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters following a meeting.
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