TOKYO (AP) — A U.S. Army helicopter crashed while landing on a Navy ship during training Wednesday off Japan’s southern island of Okinawa, injuring seven people and damaging the aircraft, officials said.
The H-60 helicopter made a hard landing on the USNS Red Cloud cargo vessel around 20 miles (30 kilometers) east of Okinawa, U.S. Forces Japan said in a statement, adding that the cause was under investigation. Okinawa is home to most of the tens of thousands of U.S. troops in Japan.
The injured were transported to a Navy hospital, the statement said. Their conditions were not available. Two of the seven injured belong to a Japanese special response unit called the Central Readiness Force, who were participating in the training, according to Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force. One had a broken bone and the other a cut, but no specifics were given.
Japan and the U.S. are strengthening military cooperation as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government tries to bolster Japan’s defense role. The other 10 people aboard the helicopter were not hurt, said Japanese coast guard spokesman Shinya Terada.
Japanese national broadcaster NHK showed video of the helicopter sitting on the cargo ship, with its tail broken off and its body partly covered with an orange tarp. The presence of so many U.S. troops on Okinawa — more than half of about 50,000 American troops in Japan — has been a source of friction and Okinawans have long complained about crime, accidents and noise from the U.S. bases.
A plan formulated in 1996 between the Japanese and American governments would move U.S. Marine Air Station Futenma from a populated neighborhood to a less developed area, but Okinawans want the Marine base moved off the island altogether.
Wednesday’s accident coincided with Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga’s visit to the island for talks with Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga, a vocal opponent of the relocation plan. “For those who live near (U.S.) bases, it’s a serious matter,” he said at the outset of the talks, reminding Suga of Okinawa’s burden and risk of accommodating the U.S. military bases.
Onaga has threatened to revoke an approval for reclamation work to build an off-shore runway in the area called Henoko. Suga called the helicopter accident “extremely regrettable,” and told reporters that he has lodged a protest to the U.S. military over it, asking for prompt information disclosure, thorough investigation and implementing preventive measures.
Since the island prefecture reverted to Japanese control in 1972, there have been 45 crashes involving U.S. military aircraft, according to Okinawan government statistics. The island was the scene of a harsh World War II battle and was U.S. occupied for 27 years.
In August 2004, a CH-53D helicopter crashed on a university campus next to the Futenma base, injuring three on board, causing fire and damaging school facility, triggering uproar on the island. Two years ago, a HH-60 helicopter crashed in Camp Hansen on Okinawa, leaving one dead and injuring three others.