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Futenma helicopter crash probe goes to prosecutor

Date Posted: 2007-06-01

More than 21 months after a US Marine Corps helicopter crashed onto the campus of Okinawa International University, police investigators are turning their investigation results over to local prosecutors.

The statute of limitation for charges to be filed against anyone involved in the CH-53D cargo chopper crash expires August 13th, the third anniversary of the crash. Informed sources say the police report will be filed before the end of June, but will not identify any suspects who could be charged under Japanese law.

The U.S. military exercised rights under the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement after the helicopter encountered tail rotor problems and crashed against a main administration building on the OIU campus, and blocked Okinawa Prefecture Police from conducting an on-site investigation for nearly a week. Police were not allowed onto the crash scene until six days after the crash, and not until the Americans had already removed the helicopter wreckage.

The three Marines aboard the transport helicopter were injured, but nobody on the ground in Ginowan City was hurt. A joint Japanese-American investigation determined the helicopter crashed after a bolt within the tail rotor assembly came off, causing the aircraft to lose control.

The accident fueled renewed calls for Futenma Marine Corps Air Station in Ginowan City to be closed immediately. A plan has been approved for a Futenma replacement in northern Okinawa, on Camp Schwab, but that facility won’t be ready until 2014. The Henoko project calls for two V-shape runways on the Marine base, with the runways extending onto reclaimed land in Oura Bay.

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