Dec 13, 2017
NAHA, Okinawa - A window fell from a U.S. military transport helicopter onto the grounds of an elementary school in Okinawa on Wednesday, slightly injuring one student and triggering renewed concern in the prefecture that hosts the bulk of U.S. forces in Japan.
The 1-square-meter metal-framed window, weighing about 7.7 kilograms, dropped from the CH-53E chopper while some 60 students were taking physical education classes in the playground of a school in the city of Ginowan, located just outside U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, according to local authorities.
According to the school, the students ran to a nearby building after the incident, some of them crying.
"It's a miracle that the pupil suffered only a slight injury," said Etsuko Kyan, the principal of the Futenma Daini Elementary School. She said the children are so upset that the school cannot resume physical education classes anytime soon.
The U.S. Marine Corps apologized for the incident and Brig. Gen. Paul Rock, commanding general of Marine Corps installations in the Pacific, told the Okinawa prefectural government that all the CH-53Es that belong to the Futenma base have been grounded for safety checks.
Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga reacted sharply to the incident, the latest in a series of mishaps involving U.S. military aircraft based in Futenma.
"The safety of children should come first. It is unforgivable that it dropped in the middle of the playground," he told reporters as he visited the site. In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the incident "stirred concern" among the people of the island prefecture.
The window, apparently acrylic, along with its metal frame fell onto the playground of the elementary school around 10:15 a.m. The nearest student was only about 5 meters away, according to a group of city assembly members who went to the site.
Shattered pieces of the window were scattered at the site, while parents, worried about their children, rushed to the school. The students in the playground at the time were in the second and fourth grades.
A boy in the fourth grade sustained a minor injury to his left hand when hit by gravel thrown up as the window frame hit the ground, the prefecture's education board said.
The Defense Ministry's local bureau told Okinawa Deputy Gov. Moritake Tomikawa that the window had fallen from the left side of the helicopter's cockpit.
"This is a regrettable incident and we apologize for any anxiety it has caused the community," the U.S. Marine Corps said in a media release, adding that it is investigating the cause in coordination with local authorities.
"I was so surprised that I trembled," said Erina Nakama, a 54-year-old principal of a nursery school about 100 meters away. "We are responsible for the lives of the children. I'm really worried because there is no way we can get away from (this kind of incident)."
Yukito Uezu, 35, who lives near the Futenma Daini school, said he heard the sound of a helicopter flying at low altitude from around 9:30 a.m. and then police sirens.
"Just going outside makes me feel anxious. I want the U.S. military to properly work on aircraft safety," he said.
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