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Chopper crash still evokes emotions

Date Posted: 2004-10-22

It’s been more than two months since a Marine Corps helicopter lost its tail rotor and crashed onto the Okinawa International University campus in Ginowan, only several hundred meters from its base at Futenma.

The crash remains a hot political issue, as demands continue for flights to be grounded, aircraft to be moved, and the base to be immediately closed. Ginowan City’s latest move is to ask citizens “How do you feel now about the accident?”

Left wing politicians are siding with Ginowan’s mayor against the base, saying “the only way to have a peaceful life is to get rid of the military or close the base.” On the other side, Japan’s Foreign Minister, Mobutaka Machimura, offered opposing thoughts. “The American pilots were great. They didn’t cause injury to local people, and nobody died,” he said, encouraging university students to put the incident behind them a nd “not waste time. You need to study very hard.”

Those comments triggered angry response from Mayor Iha,. It also raised the ire of a university official, who demanded to know“what are you talking about? Don’t you know how residents and students feel? You should know their painful hearts.” They asked why, if the pilot’s efforts were so great, he didn’t crash it onto Futenma instead of the school campus.

Machimura later backed down on his statement after other government officials scrambled to soften the position.

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