The U.S. military resumed flight operations of the HH-60 helicopter in Okinawa on Friday, saying they found no abnormalities in other choppers of the same type following a fatal accident last week.
The cause of the Aug. 5 crash, which occurred within the premises of Camp Hansen and killed one crew member, has yet to be identified and local governments and residents were quick to show their opposition to the resumption of the flights.
"We cannot allow the helicopters to fly again until we know why the crash happened," said Atsushi Toma, mayor of Ginoza village, which hosts part of Camp Hansen.
Calling the U.S. military's decision "regrettable," Susumu Matayoshi, head of Okinawa governor's executive office, said new safety measures should be implemented first.
An HH-60 helicopter took off at around 9:55 a.m. from the Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, making it the first flight of the rescue chopper since the crash, which killed 30-year-old Tech. Sgt. Mark Smith. The three other crew members were rescued.
The U.S. Air Force said Wednesday that no abnormalities had been found during a 96-hour checkup and the helicopters are safe to fly, with the media and local government officials being shown one of the HH-60s to ease safety concerns.
Tokyo and Washington have been trying to ease safety concerns about U.S military operations as local anti-base sentiment is casting a shadow over the thorny issue of relocating the Futenma Air Station to a reclaimed area within Okinawa.
However, opposition to the deployment of the MV-22 Osprey aircraft shows no signs of weakening. The U.S. military began the deployment of the tilt-rotor aircraft last year and aims to complete the transfer soon of all 24 additionally deployed Ospreys to the Futenma base in Ginowan.
Okinawa hosts the bulk of U.S. military bases in Japan, and bitter memories run deep after a series of accidents involving military aircraft since Okinawa's reversion to Japan in 1972.
In May, an F-15 fighter from the Kadena Air Base crashed in waters off Okinawa with no casualties. The cause of the accident has yet to be revealed, but the military resumed flight operations of the jet two days later.