Japanese police granted rare access to Okinawa U.S. base after window falls from chopper

Source: Xinhua| 2017-12-14 20:50:58|Editor: Zhou Xin
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TOKYO, Dec. 14 (Xinhua) -- Japanese police officials in Okinawa were granted rare access Thursday to a U.S. military base to inspect a helicopter, a window of which fell and crashed on the grounds of an elementary school a day earlier.

The police in Japan's southernmost prefecture entered the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station in Ginowan City where the CH-53E transport helicopter is based to conduct their investigation.

The inspection, overseen by the U.S. military, came as part of the ongoing investigations to determine the cause of a metal-framed window falling from the chopper and hitting the ground, narrowly missing around 50 children who were taking a sports class on the playground at the time.

According to local media reports, the police said the window fell onto the grounds of the Futenma Second Elementary School and landed around 10 meters away from where children from the 4th grade were taking a physical education class.

The school said that one child sustained slight injuries as a result of the falling window.

Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga described the incident as "unforgivable" stating that the safety of the school children should be a priority.

The Futenma Second Elementary School is located on the north side of the controversial Marine Corps Futenma Air Station, which is located in the densely-populated city of Ginowan in Okinawa.

All CH-53E transport helicopters in Okinawa are undergoing inspections, an official from the U.S. Marines told public broadcaster NHK, and will be grounded until the chief of U.S. forces in Okinawa, Lieutenant General Lawrence Nicholson, confirms their safety.

The Futenma base itself is central to an ongoing feud between the central government of Japan and local Okinawan government officials and citizens about its planned relocation to a coastal area within Okinawa.

Okinawa hosts the bulk of U.S. military bases in Japan, yet represents just a tiny percentage of Japan's land mass. Anti-U.S. sentiment has been rising on the small subtropical island amid rising instances of U.S. base-linked crimes, noise, pollution and military accidents.

Local officials have been calling to further change the Japan-U.S. status of forces agreement (SOFA), allowing local authorities to seize and search U.S. military hardware and assets after U.S. military accidents.

Investigations by Japanese authorities into the crash and potential leaking of low-level radiation following the crash-landing of another U.S. military CH-53E helicopter near the U.S. military's Northern Training Area, just 300 meters away from a residential area in Okinawa in October, were hampered by the current Japan-U.S. status of forces agreement, local officials said.