Japan has asked the United States to suspend flights of the U.S. military's HH-60 helicopters until the cause of Monday's crash of the chopper in Okinawa is determined and preventive measures are taken, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said.
After attending a ceremony Tuesday to mark the 68th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Abe said safety should not be compromised.
"It is important that the safety of local people comes first. We would like to ask the U.S. side to give utmost considerations to safety," the prime minister told a press conference in the western Japanese city.
Flying activities of the rescue squadron have been suspended, the 18th Wing Public Affairs of the U.S. Kadena Air Base said on Tuesday, adding it is not yet known when the rescue squadron will resume flying.
An HH-60 rescue helicopter crashed Monday in a mountainous area within the premises of a U.S. military base in Okinawa Prefecture, about 2 kilometers away from the nearest residential area.
The Defense Ministry said three of the four crew members had been confirmed safe, but gave no other details. Meanwhile, the Kadena base said Tuesday human remains were discovered at the crash site and that they have yet to identify the body.
Coming at a sensitive time, the accident prompted the U.S. military to put off the transfer of additional MV-22 Osprey aircraft from the Iwakuni base in Yamaguchi Prefecture to the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Okinawa, home to the bulk of U.S. bases in Japan.
The Japanese government is apparently concerned that the accident will further stir local opposition to the long-standing and thorny issue of relocating the Futenma base in Ginowan city within the prefecture.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Tokyo made a request to the United States to put off the deployment of the 10 remaining Ospreys "to take heed of local concerns," but repeated that the aircraft are vital for Japan's security.
The relocation plan is "the only viable solution" for reducing base-hosting burdens on Okinawa and maintaining U.S. deterrence at the same time, Suga said.
Tokyo has been waiting for Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima to make a decision on whether to accept an application to reclaim land in coastal waters in Nago city for the Futenma relocation, an agreement reached between the United States and Japan.
With memories fresh of past accidents involving the U.S. military's aircraft since its reversion to mainland Japan, Okinawa has long insisted that the base should be moved out of the prefecture.
Nakaima is expected to meet the foreign and defense ministers in Tokyo later in the day.