TOKYO — The US military will ground all CH-53 helicopters in Japan after one crashed on the island of Okinawa, Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera said on Thursday.
Onodera conducted talks with Major General Charles Chiarotti, deputy commander of US Forces Japan, on Thursday, during which Chiarotti informed him of the decision.
The minister told Chiarotti that the accident was “deplorable” and caused “considerable anxiety among the residents living nearby and other people in the Okinawa prefecture.”
On Wednesday evening, an onboard fire forced a US transport helicopter to make an emergency landing in a field near a US military training area in the northern part of the island, before bursting into flames, the US military said.
None of its seven crew members or any local residents were hurt, Japanese Defence Ministry officials said. However, the ministry said, the crash site was located some 300 meters away from residential areas.
The cause of the accident is under investigation, the US military said.
The US Naval Safety Centre has evaluated the helicopter crash as a Class A mishap, the most serious classification for such an accident.
Okinawa Governor Takshi Onaga visited the site and expressed his regret over the accident.
“I felt disconcerted at seeing the sudden change from ordinary life to this horrible situation. I feel sad,” the governor said.
Wednesday’s crash was the latest in a series of accidents involving US military aircraft on Okinawa. A US Osprey aircraft crashed off northern Okinawa during a night-time refueling exercise in December, which saw two of the five servicemen on board injured.
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