- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 14, 2016

TOKYO (AP) - A U.S. military Osprey aircraft crash-landed off Japan’s southern island of Okinawa after its propeller was damaged during refueling training, and all five crewmembers were rescued, the U.S. Marine Corps said Wednesday.

The Marine Corps said in a statement that the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft landed in shallow water off Okinawa’s east coast late Tuesday. Officials said two crewmembers sustained non-life-threatening injuries and were being treated at a Navy hospital.

The accident came a week after a Marine Corps pilot died when his F/A-18 fighter jet crashed off western Japan. Marine Corps officials said another Osprey had a landing gear problem elsewhere on Okinawa during training Tuesday, although there were no injuries in that incident.

The Osprey crash just off Nago City triggered protests on Okinawa, where anti-U.S. military sentiment is strong. Many Okinawans oppose deployment of Ospreys on the island because of safety concerns following a string of crashes outside Japan, including one in Hawaii last year.

“This is what we have feared might happen someday,” Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine told public broadcaster NHK. “We can never live safely here.”

Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, Okinawa area coordinator for the Marines, said the Osprey’s propeller was damaged when it hit a fuel line during offshore refueling. Its pilot landed the aircraft in shallow water to avoid the danger of flying overland back to the base, he said.

“That was his aim - to protect his crew, and to protect the people of Okinawa,” Nicholson told a news conference in Okinawa. “I hope you would all agree that we should be proud of our flight crew that took a bad situation and prevented it from becoming a disaster.”

Nicholson said an investigation of the incident has begun and Osprey flights will be suspended in Okinawa for an unspecified period until all safety procedures are fully reviewed. Flights elsewhere around the world will continue, he said.

The Osprey was based at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. The base, located in a crowded residential area in central Okinawa, is to be relocated to another site in Nago on the east coast of the island where residents oppose the plan.

Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada asked the U.S. military to suspend Osprey flights until the cause of the accident is known.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters the crash was extremely regrettable, and said safety must be guaranteed.

More than half of the 50,000 American troops in Japan are stationed on Okinawa - which has less than 1 percent Japan’s land mass - under a mutual security treaty. Many on the island complain about noise, pollution and crime linked to the U.S. military.

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Follow Mari Yamaguchi on Twitter at twitter.com/mariyamaguchi

Her work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/mari-yamaguchi


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