US military helicopter crashes off Okinawa; 7 injured

(From Reuters)

A U.S. military helicopter crashed in waters off the Japanese southern island of Okinawa, Japan’s defense ministry said Wednesday, citing information from the U.S. military.

The damaged chopper on the deck of a US Navy ship Wednesday

The damaged chopper on the deck of a US Navy ship Wednesday

The UH-60 Black Hawk performed a “hard-deck landing” on the USNS Red Cloud, the U.S. Pacific Command said. Aerial footage broadcast by the Japanese national broadcaster NHK showed the chopper with part of its tail broken off.

Of the 17 people on board, seven were injured and transported to a U.S. naval hospital on Okinawa, according to the U.S. Pacific Command.

The incident happened at 1:46 p.m. (12:46 a.m. ET Wednesday) about 20 miles east of Okinawa. The helicopter was conducting a training mission at the time and the cause was under investigation, military officials said.

Japanese patrol boats and helicopters were initially sent to search for the helicopter and its crew.

However, Okinawa coast guard spokesman Yosuke Watanuki said it later received a call from U.S. Camp Foster military police, calling off the request for assistance.

Seven Marines were killed in March after a Black Hawk crashed during a training exercise along the foggy Florida coast.

The latest accident comes as Japan’s central government begins talks with Okinawa’s governor over contentious plans to relocate a U.S. Marines air base to a less crowded part of the island, host to the bulk of U.S. military forces in Japan.

Residents of Okinawa, the site of bloody battles between U.S. and Japanese forces near the end of World War Two, have long objected to tens of thousands of U.S. troops and U.S. military installations on 18 percent of their island.

Many residents associate the U.S. bases with accidents, crime and pollution.

Japan’s central government earlier this month suspended construction of a replacement facility for the U.S. Marines’ Futenma air base for a month to give time for talks between Tokyo and island authorities opposed to the base.

The island’s governor, Takeshi Onaga, won office last year largely on his stand against U.S. bases, and has accused Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of looking down on the island’s people.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga met Onaga to discuss the issue. Kyodo news agency quoted Onaga as repeating his call for a reduction of the base-hosting burden.

The suspension of construction had been intended to take the emotive issue off the table while the government pushes sensitive security bills through parliament.

The legislation, which could allow Japanese troops to fight overseas for the first time since World War Two, has passed parliament’s lower house and is being debated in the upper chamber, but it has dragged down Abe’s support rate to less than 40 percent because of public concerns over the policy shift.



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