TOKYO: Japan on Wednesday demanded that the US suspend flights of its controversial US Marine Osprey aircraft after one appeared to crash land off the southern island of Okinawa.
Late on Tuesday, five crew members aboard the MV-22 Osprey were injured when the tilt-rotor aircraft suffered a “mishap” and landed in shallow water, the Pentagon said.
But that characterization was belied by footage aired on Japanese public broadcaster NHK, which showed the main wings of the Osprey broken in half and the cockpit separated from half-submerged fuselage drifting ashore.
The incident quickly sparked anger on Okinawa — a strategic outpost of US military power — where the local governor has spearheaded a campaign against the presence of US bases, while in Tokyo the government demanded a halt to flights.
Defense Minister Tomomi Inada called US Forces Japan commander Jerry Martinez and asked him to provide further information about the accident and suspend operations of the aircraft until safety concerns are allayed, a ministry spokesman said.
“It is very regrettable that a serious accident occurred,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters, stressing that “securing safety is prerequisite” to the aircraft’s deployment in Japan.
Okinawa governor Takeshi Onaga, an outspoken critic of the US military presence, called the incident “really outrageous”.
The deployment of Ospreys in Japan has prompted protests by Okinawa residents after a series of accidents in other countries involving the hybrid aircraft.
In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis said the aircraft conducted a “landing in shallow water” off Okinawa near the US Marine base Camp Schwab.
He did not immediately have additional details about the incident or whether the Osprey had crashed.
“It constitutes a mishap,” he said, noting that an investigation was underway.
The incident occurred around 10 p.m. local time (1300 GMT) and the crew members were airlifted to a US naval hospital, though it was not immediately clear how serious their injuries were.
The MV-22 Osprey can carry 24 Marine combat troops and combines the maneuverability of a helicopter with the speed and range of a turboprop plane.
The accident came as a long-running spat has intensified between central and local authorities over the relocation of a US military air base on the island.
Tokyo and Washington want to move it from a crowded residential district on Okinawa to a sparsely populated area in the north of the island, but many locals, including Onaga, want it removed from the island altogether.
More than half the approximately 47,000 American troops in Japan under a decades-long security alliance are stationed on Okinawa, the site of a major World War II battle that was followed by a 27-year US occupation of the island.