Tokyo asks US to stop flying Ospreys in Japan following fatal crash in Australia

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 August, 2017, 11:11pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 August, 2017, 11:11pm

Japan has asked the United States to refrain from flying US Marine Corps Osprey aircraft in Japan after one of the tilt-rotor planes crashed off Australia, Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera said on Sunday.

“We will continue to ask the United States [to stop flying Ospreys] until we receive a solid explanation” about the accident, Onodera told reporters after an Osprey crashed off the coast of Queensland state Saturday, leaving three US marines missing.

The crashed Osprey was among the tilt-rotor aircraft deployed at US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Japan’s southernmost prefecture of Okinawa, where local residents have expressed concern about the safety of the aircraft that have a history of fatal accidents overseas.

Onodera, who assumed his post in a cabinet reshuffle on Thursday, said Japan also urged Washington to disclose information about the accident, investigate what caused it and take measures to prevent such an accident from happening again.

Japan also plans to discuss with the United States whether it would be appropriate for Ospreys to take part in joint training between the Ground Self-Defence Force and the US marines in Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido, planned to be held from Thursday, the defence minister said.

“Japan will urge the United States to give maximum consideration to safety and minimise the impact on local residents,” Onodera said.

Onodera also expressed his readiness to visit Okinawa. A source said the defence minister plans to make a trip as soon as August 14 to meet Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga and explain the Japanese government’s response to the accident.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in a television programme on Sunday that Ospreys need to be deployed with safety as a top priority.

“I hope the cause of [the accident] will be investigated as the highest priority” issue, he said.

Marine Corps Base Camp Butler, in Okinawa, announced that the search and rescue operations for the three missing Marines have been called off, and the focus now is on recovery and salvage operations, which “can take several months to complete”.

“The circumstances of the mishap are currently under investigation,” it said.

The Osprey aircraft, which can take off and land like helicopters but cruise like fixed-wing aeroplanes, have a chequered safety record.

In December last year, a US Marine MV-22 Osprey crash-landed in waters off the main island of Okinawa. In May 2015, a US Osprey made a hard-landing in Hawaii, resulting in the deaths of two Marines.