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First anniversary of Ginowan helicopter crash is Saturday

Date Posted: 2005-08-17

The mood is quiet now, but Ginowan residents say they still cannot forget the trauma caused by the crash of a Marine Corps Sea Stallion helicopter in their community.

The Friday the 13th afternoon calm was shattered at 2:20pm when the giant transport chopper twisted out of control as it took off from Futenma Marine Corps Air Station, then crashed on the the campus of Okinawa International University. The helicopter struck the side of the school administration building, sending debris and parts of the helicopter flying, but injuring nobody on the ground. The three crew members suffered injuries.

Subsequent investigation revealed the helicopter’s tail rotor was the culprit. A small part had separated, sending the helicopter plummeting to the ground.

Nearly a year later, local resident Katsura Nakamura says “my body stiffens and I cannot sleep at night when I hear the sounds of a helicopter.” Some of the crash debris rained down on her nearby home.

Ginowan Mayor Yoichi Iha has made this past year a crusade to rid his community of the Futenma air base, where the crashed helicopter was based. He continues to demand actions be taken to stop the flights, arguing that American aircraft continue to fly over his city “”in ways not accepted in the United States.”

Okinawa Governor Keiichi Inamine told local media over the weekend “the crash shows the real dangers of Futenma to the residents in surrounding neighborhoods.” He’s pushing a plan that would move the base away from Futenma, and out of his prefecture.

Earlier this week Ginowan City and Okinawa International University staged a symposium to talk about the crash and the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station issue. The Prefecture’s senior policy advisor and political analyst to the governor, Yoshihiko Higa, lashed out at the plan to integrate Futenma with units at Kadena Air Base. He called it “unworkable…impossible”. He says relocating the controversial base anywhere in Okinawa is not a wise choice, “even impossible” because nobody wants it.

A Okinawa International University official has come up with a temporary means of blocking flights, or at least the approach pattern over his campus. Professor Masayuki Ibata says the school will begin raising balloon’s from the university building roof this week. “It’s legal,” he says, and “we want to stop the helicopters from flying over us.”

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