October 25, 2017 – The U.S. military informed Japan’s Ministry of Defense that the recent crash-landing of a U.S. Marine helicopter in Okinawa was caused by an engine fault specific to that aircraft, and does not affect the operation of other helicopters of the same type, a government source said.
The Ministry of Defense has demanded an additional explanation on the accident that saw the CH-53E transport helicopter go up in flames on Oct. 11, saying that confirmation of the safety of the helicopters is insufficient, but the U.S. military has not complied.
The U.S. military in Okinawa has already resumed operation of its CH-53E helicopters, saying it has confirmed their safety. But it has not revealed the cause of the crash-landing or listed measures to prevent a recurrence.
The helicopter in the accident caught fire while in flight in the skies above the Takae district of the Okinawa Prefecture village of Higashi on Oct. 11, and crash-landed in a private meadow. The U.S. military subsequently announced that it would suspend flights of the same type of helicopter for 96 hours to confirm the aircraft’s safety.
To verify the U.S. military’s accident investigation, the Ministry of Defense dispatched four Self-Defense Force (SDF) members with experience operating the same type of helicopter to the scene. Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera had stated that it was necessary to indefinitely suspend operation of CH-53E helicopters until the cause of the accident had been determined and the safety of the aircraft confirmed.
While the ministry was unconvinced by the explanation that the problem was specific to the helicopter that crashed, U.S. officials were reluctant to provide additional explanations, so the SDF members verifying the accident investigation were withdrawn on Oct. 20.
The crash-landing occurred during campaigning in Japan for the Oct. 22 House of Representatives election. A senior Defense Ministry official commented, “(The dispatch of the verification team) was meant to demonstrate that the government was expending every possible means in its response.” However, it is unclear how the situation will develop in the future.