Okinawans vexed as U.S. resumes flights of F-15 fighters 2 days after crash

Li Jiayao

TOKYO, June 13 (Xinhua) -- Training drills were resumed Wednesday by U.S. F-15 fighter jets in Japan's Okinawa Prefecture, just two days after one of the jets crashed into the sea off Japan's southernmost prefecture.

According to local media accounts, two F-15s took off from the U.S. Kadena Air Base in Okinawa Prefecture at 8:50 a.m. local time with two more joining the drill just minutes after.

The prefectural government has raised concerns about the hasty resumption of the jets' flights and said it has received no official word from the U.S. side about the cause of the initial crash and why flights have been resumed so quickly.

The U.S. Air Force briefly suspended flights of its F-15 jets immediately after the crash, but said the next day that the jets had been inspected and were safe to resume their operations.

"I think the U.S. side made the decision based on their own confirmation of the safety of all F-15 fighters," Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera was quoted as telling a press briefing on the matter.

Meanwhile, the prefectural government in Okinawa has lodged an appeal to the local chapter of the ministry to ground all U.S. F-15 flights until a full explanation for the crash has been given.

On Monday, a U.S. F-15 fighter jet crashed into the sea off Okinawa, with a Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) helicopter rescuing the pilot, according to government sources here.

The pilot was forced to eject from the stricken jet and is, according to local reports, in a serious condition.

The crash of the F-15 jet, which belonged to the U.S. Kadena Air Base, occurred at around 6:40 a.m local time and around 80 km south of Okinawa's prefectural capital of Naha, the sources said.

Okinawa hosts the bulk of U.S. military bases and assets in Japan, yet the island accounts for just a fraction of Japan's total land mass.

There have been mounting calls from officials and locals on the island to have their base hosting burdens reduced, with the latest crash of a fighter jet doing little to help ease concerns about the safety of U.S. military assets in Okinawa.

One of the major concerns of officials and locals on the island, they have said, is the apparently arbitrary manner in which the U.S. military suspends and resumes flights after accidents and mishaps with seemingly minimal investigation into the individual cases and a lack of communication of the causes to the local and central governments.

Okinawa has been plagued by U.S. military accidents involving jets and helicopters as well as a swathe of high-profile crimes committed by U.S. military and military-linked personnel against local citizens.

This has led to growing anti-U.S. sentiment on the island which has been punctuated by the controversial relocation of a U.S. base from a densely populated area in Okinawa to a pristine coastal area with an extremely delicate ecosystem also on the island.

Local residents demanded that the base be moved out of the prefecture entirely.

As for F-15's specifically, in May 2013, one of the jets crashed into the sea off Okinawa and in February this year a heavy object fell from one of the jets during a flight.



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