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Japanese worry over Osprey safety after fatal U.S. air crash

TOKYO — A fatal crash of a U.S. Marine Corps Osprey in Hawaii has renewed safety concerns in Japan, where more of the hybrid aircraft are to be deployed.

Gov. Takeshi Onaga on the southern island of Okinawa said Monday that flights of Ospreys should be suspended until the cause of the crash is found. The tilt-rotor MV-22 Osprey can take off and land like a helicopter but flies like an airplane.

An Osprey caught fire after a hard landing Sunday at Bellows Air Force Station on Hawaii's main island of Oahu, killing one Marine and sending 21 others to hospitals.

"From the (Okinawan) residents' point of view, Osprey deployment is not acceptable to begin with," Onaga told a televised news conference. "The significance of this crash is extremely big. We seek an adequate investigation into the cause and an explanation, and of course eventually demand the withdrawal of Ospreys."

Onaga said he plans to demand that the U.S. military suspend all Osprey flights on Okinawa until the authorities determine the cause of the latest accident.

The U.S. military says the Osprey is safe, but Okinawans have worried that it may be prone to crashes. Anti-U.S. military sentiment is particularly high on Okinawa, home to half of the about 50,000 American troops based in Japan under a bilateral security treaty. Many complain about noise and crime linked to U.S. bases on the island.

The U.S. operates 24 Ospreys on Okinawa and announced a week ago that 10 more would be deployed to Yokota Air Base near Tokyo beginning in 2017.

The first three are to arrive in Yokota in the second half of 2017, with the remainder to be deployed by 2021. The announcement immediately prompted opposition from Japanese residents near the base, with dozens protesting over the weekend.

Separately, Japan's Defense Ministry plans to buy 17 Ospreys for deployment at Japan Self-Defense Forces bases over the next few years, although the exact locations have not been released. The U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency in early May announced the State Department's approval of a possible sale to Japan of V-22B Blok C Osprey aircraft and related equipment and logistical support for an estimated $3 billion.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a regular news conference Monday that he believes the aircraft is safe but asked the U.S. side to promptly provide information about the accident.

Officials from six municipalities near the Yokota base have demanded the Japanese government do more to provide information about the aircraft and the accident.

Ospreys on Okinawa are deployed at the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, which is at the center of a longstanding relocation dispute.

Tokyo and Washington agreed in 1996 to relocate the base, which is now in a densely populated part of the island, to another location on Okinawa to address safety and nuisance complaints. Many Okinawans want Futenma moved completely off the island.

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