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The U.S. military informed the Okinawa prefectural government Wednesday that it will resume training flights by HH-60 rescue helicopters deployed in the southern Japan prefecture on Friday after one of the helicopters crashed inside a U.S. military base there earlier this month.
The news immediately sparked criticism in Okinawa as the prefectural assembly had unanimously passed a resolution urging the U.S. military to suspend flights by other helicopters of the same type until the cause of the crash is determined.
The U.S. Air Force showed the media one of the helicopters, with a mechanic saying no abnormalities had been found during a 96-hour checkup.
But the U.S. Air Force also said it has yet to determine the cause of the crash on Aug. 5 of the HH-60 rescue helicopter in a mountainous area within the Marines' Camp Hansen, about 2 kilometers from a residential area outside the base. One of the four crew members on board died in the crash.
Brigadier General James Hecker, commander of the 18th Wing, Kadena Air Base, said in a statement, "We are confident in our ability to safely resume operational and training flights."
But Okinawa Vice Gov. Kurayoshi Takara said, "I cannot say anything other than that it is regrettable that we are going to see the resumption (of flights) before receiving reports on the cause of the accident and safety measures."
He said the prefectural government will keep calling on the U.S. military to suspend the training flights until the cause of the crash is clarified.
Atsushi Toma, mayor of Ginoza village, which hosts part of Camp Hansen, told reporters, "We can hardly accept (the resumption of flights) before the cause is determined and it is unforgivable."
Okinawa citizens also expressed anger over the U.S. decision.
"I cannot believe they are resuming (the flights) when a thorough investigation into the cause of the accident has yet to finish," a 53-year-old man said.
He was among more than 100 protesters rallying in front of a gate of the U.S. Marines' Futenma Air Station to protest the additional deployment of the MV-22 tilt-rotor Osprey aircraft to the base.
The day following the accident, the U.S. military said it would suspend flights by HH-60 helicopters for a while.
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