On August 13, at approximately 2:20 p.m., a U.S. military helicopter on a training flight over a residential area in Ginowan City (Okinawa, Japan) crashed into the Okinawa International University Administration Building, and burst into flames. The accident damaged the eastern side of the roof and the outer wall of the building. Part of the third floor wall was knocked out, and the subsequent fire reached all the way to the emergency exit of the university presidentfs office on the second floor. Debris from the helicopter was hurled into the accounting office on the first floor, and a large fragment landed all the way across the room near the door, over ten meters from the crash site. It was only by a string of miraculous coincidences that no office workers were killed.
Other flying debris landed on the other side of the building near the main entrance, but students and university staff did manage to evacuate the building without injury. Various parts from the helicopter, including the rotor blades, hurtled across the street into one of the crowded residential neighborhoods which surround the university, ripping like shrapnel through walls, doors, windows, and even a water tank. Shortly after the three injured crewmembers of the U.S. helicopter were rescued, the fuselage burst into flames. It was truly a miracle that no lives were lost in an accident of this severity.
Thirty-two years ago, when this university was being built, a fuel tank from a U.S. military aircraft dropped off and fell on a classroom building which was under construction. That time, as well, construction workers and university employees miraculously escaped injury.
Since its founding, Okinawa International University has been plagued day and night by training flights of numerous military aircraft from U.S. Marine Corps Air Station, Futenma. We, at the university, have repeatedly demanded the termination of flights over residential areas. The U.S. military, however, has completely ignored our requests. At the same time, there have been frequent accidents involving U.S. military aircraft assigned to the Futenma base. By fortunate happenstance, none of these accidents have resulted so far in civilian casualties in the residential areas surrounding the university.
Now the serious accident we had long feared has become reality.
Our university accepts students from all areas of Okinawa as well as mainland Japan. We also host numerous foreign exchange students. In addition to our educational responsibilities at the university, we also have a basic obligation to protect the lives of all of our students. This accident has inflicted extreme anxiety and distress not only upon our students, but also upon their families and friends.
This incident is proof that the nearby Futenma base threatens all our lives. In fact, the base has proven to be a threat to the very existence of our university. Not only did a U.S. helicopter crash and damage a building in a center of learning, the invasion of our campus by U.S. marines, and their occupation of the Administration Building, the hub of the university, constitutes an infringement of our rights to life, property, and self-governance, as well as a gross infringement of Japanese national sovereignty.
This situation can no longer be allowed to continue.
We, the faculty of the College of Global and Regional Culture, strenuously protest the helicopter crash and subsequent actions of the U.S. military, including their occupation of part of our campus, attempts to prohibit photography, removal of evidence, refusal to permit Japanese police to investigate the crash, and the resumption of helicopter training flights. We urgently demand that the U.S. and Japanese governments put an immediate end to flights of aircraft from the base, and that M.C.A.S. Futenma be promptly closed and returned, as was promised by both governments in their agreement of April 1996.
August 17, 2004
Faculty of the College of Global and Regional Culture
Okinawa International University