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American general argues U.S. followed procedures

Date Posted: 2004-09-03

Americaís top general in Japan says U.S. handling into the investigation of an August 13th helicopter crash on Okinawa is completely proper.

Lt. Gen. Thomas Waskow, speaking to the National Press Club in Tokyo, says the way the investigation is being handled is "precisely in the confines of the agreement we have with the government of Japan" as well as U.S. security guidelines. He stressed that the United States fully cooperated with local authorities to secure the crash site.

Okinawans, long fearful of a crash on or near the sprawling Futenma Marine Corps Air Station in Ginowan, have pressed their case following the crash of a CH-53D Sea Stallion on the Okinawa International University. Residents worry a major disaster can take place in the heavily populated community. Okinawan sentiments are further irritated by the U.S. handling of the accident probe and resumption of CH-53D flights.

U.S. military authorities removed the helicopter wreckage from the accident scene before allowing Japanese police onto the site.

Further resentment was fueled by the military allowing six CH-53Dís to take off from Futenma to White Beach for deployment to Iraq, despite appeals that all flights be grounded until the crash cause is determined. Waskow said he allowed the choppers to depart on orders from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The U.S. Forces Japan commander says safety procedures were followed. He also noted that although the bilateral Status of Forces Agreement does not provide for Japanese police to conduct on-site probes into U.S. military accidents, the U.S. forces cooperated with local authorities, including securing the site of the crash and the safety of civilians.

The U.S. military is to release an interim report on its findings tomorrow, Waskow says, adding that a report is normally not made until the investigating boardís work is finished.

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