Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera on Tuesday urged the head of the U.S. Pacific Command to guarantee the safety of aircraft operating in Okinawa following two emergency landings involving U.S. military helicopters in recent days.
During his visit to Hawaii, Onodera called on Adm. Harry Harris to take thorough measures to prevent similar incidents and ensure the safety of local residents, according to Japanese government officials.
Harris expressed regret over the incidents while adding that the U.S. military makes safety a top priority in its fleet of aircraft.
Harris said he was satisfied that the helicopter crews’ decisions to make emergency landings, on a sandy beach and a disposal site, respectively, were correct. Had they chosen not to make the landings, they could have tried to return to U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, which is located in a densely populated area of Okinawa.
On Monday, an AH-1 attack helicopter was forced to land in the village of Yomitan, just two days after a UH-1 helicopter made an emergency landing on Ikei Island in the city of Uruma. The landings were the latest in a series of accidents involving U.S. military aircraft in Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan.
Onodera and Harris also exchanged views on North Korea, a day after the country held the first official talks with South Korea in more than two years, and confirmed they will maximize pressure on Pyongyang to give up its development of nuclear and missile capabilities.
Harris said a joint military drill between the United States and South Korea, which the countries agreed to postpone during the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, is expected to be held after the games.
Ahead of his expected visit on Wednesday to the Aegis Ashore testing site on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, Onodera called for U.S. assistance in the deployment of the land-based missile defense system in Japan.