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Japan

Video proves US Marines broke promise not to fly over Okinawa schoolyard: Japanese minister

There is anger in Okinawa where a window from a US helicopter plunged to the ground and nearly hit a group of primary pupils in the same schoolyard last month

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 January, 2018, 2:27pm
UPDATED : Friday, 19 January, 2018, 9:55pm

The Japanese government on Friday released a video that it says proves the US Marine Corps is flouting safety concerns by flying helicopters directly over a school near a US airbase in Okinawa.

“As you can see from the video footage, the helicopters’ underbellies are clearly visible as they flew,” Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera said on Friday.

The video was shot on Thursday from a school where a heavy helicopter window plummeted to the ground on December 13, narrowly missing a group of primary pupils during a physical education class and sparking outrage from school authorities, parents and political figures.

The US has denied that it has continued to fly over the school, but Onodera saif the video refuted this.

“Children, teachers and parents will certainly be worried. This is a kind of flight we don’t want to see,” the minister said. Onodera also said he will continue to urge the US military to avoid flying over the school just outside the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga also expressed strong disappointment over what he sees as a “broken promise” that the US military would avoid flying over the school as much as possible since the December incident.

“It is completely outrageous,” Onaga said at a press conference.

Local concerns are deepening over continuing accidents and mishaps involving US aircraft in the southern Japanese island prefecture where the bulk of US military forces in Japan are stationed.

The Okinawa prefectural assembly on Friday adopted documents demanding the suspension of the operation of the Futenma base by February next year, and the removal of the Marines from the prefecture, as many of the incident-prone aircraft fly out of the base.

The December 13 incident at the Futenma No 2 primary school also involved a Futenma-stationed CH-53E large transport helicopter. Nobody was injured, but locals were incensed as the window, weighing 7.7kg, landed only metres from more than 50 children taking part in physical education activities.

After the incident, the US. Marine Corps in Okinawa said it instructed all crew of aircraft taking off and landing at the Futenma base to avoid flying over schools to the “greatest extent possible,” according to the Japanese Defense Ministry.

The ministry, for its part, has installed security cameras at the school and sent local defence bureau officials to watch for any US military aircraft flying over.

The video released on Friday showed two AH-1 attack helicopters and one UH-1 multipurpose helicopter flying over the school, according to the ministry, prompting it to lodge an immediate protest.

Onodera said Friday that the ministry has asked the US military to again confirm the circumstances of the flights using video footage shot from its cameras placed at the school.

No children were in the playground when the three helicopters passed over, but not long before, students had been evacuated from the area during a drill being carried out in response to the window incident.