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HOME  > Past issues  > 2007 August 1 - 21  > Japan police ends investigation into U.S. Marine helicopter crash in Okinawa without questioning of U.S. personnel
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2007 August 1 - 21 [US FORCES]

Japan police ends investigation into U.S. Marine helicopter crash in Okinawa without questioning of U.S. personnel

August 2, 2007
The Okinawa Prefectural Police Headquarters that has investigated into a U.S. Marine Corps helicopter crash at the Okinawa International University site in Ginowan City on August 13, 2004 sent to the Public Prosecutors Office on August 1 files of four U.S. servicemen in charge of maintenance of the helicopter without identifying them.

The Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement provides that the Japanese authorities have no primary right to exercise jurisdiction over accidents that the U.S. forces caused during their official duties. This case, therefore, is expected to be dropped without even interviewing the four suspects despite the fact that this was a major accident that could have killed civilians.

Shortly after taking off from the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station, the helicopter crashed into a university building and caught fire, injuring three U.S. crew members. The accident was caused by the failure of maintenance in line with U.S. regulations, the Japan-U.S. Joint Committee investigation team determined in 2005.

The investigation process shed light on the Japanese government policy to give more priority to the maintenance of the Japan-U.S. alliance and consideration to the U.S. than to the safety of residents in the city and the rest of Okinawa.

Immediately after the accident, the police requested the U.S. forces to cooperate in the investigation. However, the U.S. refused to cooperate, and the police did the on-site inspection only after the U.S. removed the helicopter from the site. The Japanese government has never made a request to the U.S. to waive its primary right to exercise jurisdiction.

In April 2005, the Japan-U.S. Joint Committee adopted a new guideline on aircraft accidents which allows the U.S. forces to enter any private or public land where an accident occurs without prior approval. Furthermore, Japanese government officials used to be able to enter restricted areas based on the judgment of the Japanese side, but the guideline now requires the agreement of the U.S. for Japanese officials to enter.

Ginowan City Mayor Iha Yoichi on the same day said as follows:

“I can’t help but feel anger over the fact that three years ago the U.S. force sealed off the crash site and even took trees and soil from the site away with them, but refused inspections by police and fire department officials and interviews with the U.S. servicemen involved in the accident.

“With respect to this accident, we must focus discussion not the mechanics’ breach of regulations but the dangers caused by the military base located in the midst of a densely populated area in the first place.

“In this sense, lessons from this accident have not been learned, U.S. helicopters continue to operate, and the dangers still exist as before the accident. In order to protect the residents, I urge the authorities concerned to immediately remove the Futenma Air Station to outside Japan.” - Akahata, August 2, 2007
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