A U.S. military helicopter burst into flames after landing in a village outside of the U.S. military’s Northern Training Area in Okinawa on October 11.
The U.S. military announced that the CH-53 chopper caught fire during a training flight and was forced to land. They confirmed that none of the crew members sustained injuries.
Takeshi Onaga, the governor of Okinawa, demanded a strict investigation into the cause of the crash and a suspension of further CH-53 use. The following day, General Lawrence Nicholson of the Third Marine Expeditionary Force authorized a suspension of all CH-53 flights in Okinawa for 96 hours.
U.S. military-related accidents and crimes are not rare, but have often sparked political resentment and conflict over the U.S. military presence in Okinawa. Okinawa hosts 70 percent of American military bases in Japan. This explains the number of incidents involving U.S. military in the past.
In 2004, a CH-53 crashed in Okinawa International University, severely damaging the campus. In May 2016, the police arrested several U.S. soldiers for the rape and murder of a 20-year-old woman. More than 65,000 protesters gathered at the Okinawa prefectural rally to demand the removal of the base.
In December 2016, a V-22 Osprey crashed into the coast of Nago. Onaga flew to Tokyo to complain about the crash to the minister of defense.
Despite the LDP’s effort to prevent problems with U.S. military bases in Okinawa from becoming a point of contention in politics, Asahi newspaper contends that this incident will heavily influence the current House of Representatives election.
Four candidates of All Okinawa, a united front against the construction of U.S. military bases in Okinawa, declared the LDP responsible for the accident because of the base expansions under the party’s rule.
Using this accident as a turning point, the opposition party intensified its criticism of the government as well. Kazuo Shii, the head of the Communist Party, made a speech in Nagoya claiming that it is no longer possible to live with the military base. He emphasized that the government has continuously ignored the voices of the people of Okinawa.
A staff member of the LDP Federation of Okinawa Prefecture says there is a risk of this accident becoming a storm against the LDP.
Despite its consecutive victories in the national election, the LDP continues to lose in Okinawa. In the lower-house election in 2013, the party lost in all four electoral districts in Okinawa. The current election may be another sign of distress for the LDP.
While the military crash did not result in deaths, it did expose existing underlying tension between the local citizens of Okinawa and the U.S. military presence.