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Okinawa angry over crash of U.S. military chopper


The crash of a U.S. military helicopter in Okinawa on Monday drew harsh response from local people, who were reminded anew of the danger they face in Japan's southernmost prefecture that hosts the bulk of U.S. military forces in the country.

"It is quite regrettable," said Atsushi Toma, mayor of Ginoza village, which hosts part of Camp Hansen where the accident occurred.

Toma said he will keep a watch to see that the accident is not used as "an excuse to replace old aircraft with Osprey tilt-rotor planes," which have drawn criticism in Okinawa due to their checkered safety record.

"This accident has shown the reality again that U.S. military aircraft do crash," said Koei Tanaka, an assembly member of the city of Kadena, hosting the U.S. military base where the HH-60 rescue helicopter that crashed was based.

Tanaka has seen HH-60s routinely fly over residential districts. More than three HH-60s sometimes fly together and often conduct nighttime training, he said, adding he had been wondering why so many training flights are necessary.

"The latest crash occurred within a base, but there are many densely populated areas between air bases and training facilities such as Camp Hansen," said Masaaki Gabe, professor of international politics at the University of the Ryukyus. "You never know when and where an accident like this will occur. People are frightened. This is the reality of Okinawa."