All Osprey aircraft grounded after crash
The United States military on Wednesday grounded its tilt-rotor MV-22 Osprey aircraft in Japan after Tokyo called for a halt to flights following a crash southwest of Okinawa island, the first accident involving the aircraft in the Asian nation.
The aircraft has become a lightning rod for opposition to the US military presence in Okinawa, with local groups seeking the closure of US military bases saying it is prone to crash and poses a danger to residents.
A US-operated Osprey ditched into the sea on Tuesday, injuring its crew of five after a hose connected to the aircraft broke during a refueling exercise.
Images of the scene aired by Japan’s public broadcaster NHK showed the aircraft broke into several pieces in waters close to the coast.
“No flights in Japan are planned today,” said a US Marine Corps spokesman in Okinawa. The US military was still investigating the cause of the crash, which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe described as “very deplorable” on Wednesday.
Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga, for his part, called the Osprey accident “outrageous”.
The Osprey, built by Boeing Co and Textron Inc’s Bell Heli- copter and designed to take off like a helicopter and rotate its propellers to fly like a plane, has suffered a series of incidents in other parts of the world before the crash in Okinawa.
The US said it has two Osprey squadrons in Japan, although it does not disclose the precise number of aircraft. A squadron typically comprises between 12 to 24 aircraft.
The accident has added to the fury and resentment of local people against the US military presence in Okinawa as well as the Japanese central government’s support for such presence, and a number of protests were held around the nation.
“It’s really scary to think that the aircraft could have fallen in the populated urban area,” said a local resident in Okinawa.
The crash in Japan could further delay plans to relocate some US forces on the island and comes amid a surge in resentment over US bases after a US civilian working for the military was arrested this year over the murder of a 20-yearold Japanese woman.
Okinawa, which was under US occupation until 1972, hosts the bulk of the approximately 50,000 US military personnel in Japan.
A US soldier walks next to the wreckage of a US MV-22 Osprey aircraft in Okinawa, Japan, on Wednesday. The plane crashed on Tuesday.