Japan has hit out at the US military for continuing to fly its V-22 Osprey aircraft despite its previous request to suspend all non-emergency flights of this kind over its territory.
Speaking at a news conference on Friday, Japan's chief cabinet secretary, Hirokazu Matsuno, said "We are concerned that despite our repeated requests, and in the absence of sufficient explanation (from the US military), the Osprey continues to fly," adding that Tokyo had "officially" made the request from the US military to ground its V-22 Osprey aircraft.
That came after the Pentagon said on Thursday that it was not aware of any official request for the grounding of Ospreys after the fatal crash that took place earlier this week.
Japanese government’s call for the suspension of all non-emergency V-22 Osprey flights over its territory came after one crashed into the sea in western Japan on Wednesday.
According to Japan's Coast Guard, one person was found and confirmed dead, while search operations are underway to find the remaining seven aboard. Investigations are also underway to determine the cause of the crash.
Japan's Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa said she had directly asked US ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel on Thursday to stop further flights until the safety of Ospreys is confirmed.
Japan's Self-Defense Force (SDF), which also operates Ospreys, will suspend flights of the aircraft until the circumstances of the incident are clarified, a senior defense ministry official said.
The deployment of the hybrid aircraft in Japan has sparked controversy in the East Asian country, with critics of the US military presence in the southwest islands saying it is prone to accidents.
Osprey is a military aircraft that is mostly used to transport “troops, equipment, and supplies from assault ships and land bases,” according to the US Marine Corps.
The hybrid aircraft, which is dual-piloted and takes off and lands like a helicopter but can rotate its propellers and cruise like an airplane during the flight, was nicknamed the “widowmaker” due to its history of fatal crashes.
In the last series of Osprey crashes, in August the aircraft crashed on a remote Australian island during a joint exercise with countries, including the Philippines, killing three of the 23 who were aboard the aircraft.
The last fatal US military aircraft crash in Japan was in 2018, when a mid-air collision during a training exercise killed six people, according to Japan's defense ministry.
More than 50,000 US troops are stationed across Japan, which hosts the biggest overseas concentration of US military forces.
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