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Police give prosecutors documents on Marine Corps mechanics

Date Posted: 2007-08-03

The Naha District Prosecutor’s Office has received documents pertaining to the August 2004 crash of a Marine Corps helicopter in Ginowan from Okinawa Prefectural Police.

The documents cite four U.S. Marines, all mechanics who worked on the CH-53 helicopter that crashed onto the Okinawa International University campus August 13th, 2004, charging they violated Japanese laws pertaining to dangerous aviation practices. The Okinawa Prefectural Police report explains to prosecutors their investigation was hampered by U.S. and Japanese authorities, who prevented a visit to the crash site for six days.

Three American crewmembers aboard the Marine chopper were injured in the crash, as the out-of-control machine struck a university building. The CH-53D was on a flight mission to Futenma Marine Corps Air Station, only a few hundred meters away. The university was on summer break, and nobody on the ground was injured. Four Marine mechanics who worked on the helicopter were disciplined following the investigation, which concluded they had not performed proper maintenance.

The Prosecutor’s Office will not, in all probability, take any action August 13th because it has no jurisdiction in the case. The U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement assigns the two governments legal control in cases where an accident occurs in the performance of official duties. The U.S. military has refused to provide local authorities with names or ranks of the mechanics, citing privacy regulations.

That decision, as well as most every aspect of the military’s position following the crash, angers Ginowan City Mayor Youichi Iha. “Without getting support from the military side to finish an investigation, I can never forgive them,” he says. “I will never understand those Americans.” The mayor, a staunch opponent of Futenma Marine Corps Air Station being located in his city, added “Even now, helicopters are flying over our homes and an accident might happen again. We have a very dangerous life here, and still, America says we can’t even ask for names and ages. Nothing.”

Iha has again called on the military to stop flying missions from Futenma. “I’ll require them to stop flying over Ginowan City residents’ houses,” he added. “Ginowan residents and students are still upset, and complaining about the decisions.”

Prefecture Police say they’ve done all they can do. A spokesman said “we can’t say anything about political problems, and we can’t say anything about reforming the agreements and promises made by Japan and the United States.”

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