The US military has decided to ground it transport helicopters operating in Japan, after one of them was involved in a fiery crash near a villiage in Okinawa on Wednesday.
Major General Charles Chiarotti, deputy commander of US Forces Japan, announced the decision on Thursday.
The CH-53E helicopter caught fire in midair during a training flight over the US military’s Northern Training Area on the main island of Okinawa and burst into flames as it made an emergency landing 300 meters away from residential houses.
All of the chopper’s seven crews survived the crash which was rated as the most serious “Class A” mishap by the US Naval Safety Center.
Apparently, the aircraft went down after a fire broke out in the engine, forcing the pilot to make an emergency landing.
The Japanese government asked US officials to clarify the cause of the accident. Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga also expressed dismay over the incident after exploring the site of the crash in the village of Higashi.
“I felt disconcerted at seeing the sudden change from ordinary life to this horrible situation. I feel sad,” he said.
Katsutoshi Kawano, chief of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces Joint Staff, who is currently in Hawaii, also reacted to the incident, asking Admiral Harry Harris, the top US military commander in the Asia-Pacific region, to investigate the cause, according to the Japanese Defense Ministry.
Local officials told the media that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had ordered the Defense Ministry and the Self-Defense Forces to conduct their own investigations and don’t rely solely on US investigations.
It remains unclear, however, whether Japanese officials can inspect the causes because they are not allowed to seize US military assets.
The Okinawa government said they tried to access the site to search for traces of a possible safety device on board the chopper that contained a low-level radioactive isotope, but US military forces did not allow them to search the area.
The Northern Training Area, straddling the villages of Higashi and Kunigami, is equipped helipads that are used by the US military’s Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, notorious for their reliability issues.