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Eyewitness Accounts

My Experience of the Helicopter Crash

By Mitsumasa Yamane

   At the time of the helicopter crash, I happened to be in the Administration Building. Usually, I work in the Alumni and Support Association Office in the Student Welfare Building. On the day of the accident, I had to go to the Administration Building to shred some old documents. I loaded up the handcart, and left together with N— from the Support Association. The Alumni Association is an organization of graduates, and the Support Association is similar to a high school PTA.
We entered the Administration Building and headed to the Accounting Section on the first floor to use their shredder. The machine was rather slow, so after about five minutes, we decided to divide up the work to speed things along. I headed up to the General Affairs Section on the second floor, where three or four staff members were working.
   Just as I started using the shredder, it happened. Outside grew dark, and I heard an unusual, eerie sound. Thinking that it was an earthquake or a tornado, I glanced around the office. One or two seconds later, I heard a horrible metallic sound of something ripping through concrete. I heard the same thing twice. At that point, I instinctively knew that something extraordinary was happening. A large tree crashed down with what sounded like the rumbling of the earth—and then all went silent. The whole thing took little more than ten seconds, and during that time, I just stood there, stupefied. I looked out the window, and saw gray smoke and flames rising up against the eastern wall of the building. I knew for sure that a helicopter had crashed.
   gCall the fire department!h someone yelled. I heard an explosion. gItfs gonna explode again!h We escaped together and ran to the front of Building 3, where students, faculty, and janitorial staff

had gathered. I made sure that N— was okay. gStay away from the Administration Building. Itfs dangerous.h Terrifying black smoke rose up overhead. Sirens sounded, and before long, the U.S. marines, firefighters, and police officers had gathered in front of the Administration Building. A foul smell hung in the air. gThere arenft any casualties,h someone said. It was as if we were in a war zone. I was worried about my office in the Student Welfare Building, so I gave them a call. No one answered. I rushed over, and we made sure that everyone was okay. Recalling the accident, it occurred to me that if the angle had been slightly different, the helicopter might have crashed where I stood. In Okinawan dialect, chirudai refers to losing onefs energy, and I now felt overwhelmed with chirudai.
   Two days after the accident, N. and I were taken to the first floor office to explain what had happened. Lying on its side, the large fuselage blocked the window—just a few feet away from where N. had been shredding documents. A chill ran up my spine yet again. Debris had fallen not only on campus but also on the surrounding area. It was a miracle amongst miracles that there were no fatalities. I am sure that many university staff members and local residents have either directly or indirectly suffered mental trauma.
   The U.S. military took control of the entire Administration Building for a week after the accident. In this case, the perpetrator was the U.S. military, and the victims were the university, the residents of Ginowan, and the residents of Okinawa. In spite of this, the perpetrators closed off the area, and even denied entry of the prefectural police to inspect the area. Have you ever heard of anything so outrageous? This incident has made me much more aware of the importance of  national sovereignty. We need to do whatever it takes to end all flights out of Futenma air base.

The above article appeared (in Japanese) in the Okinawa Times on August 28, 2004.


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