Japan

Onodera mum on Osprey deployment plan in Saga after helicopter crash

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Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said Sunday it is too early to say whether the recent military helicopter crash in a residential area of Saga will affect the central government's plan to deploy Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft in the southwestern prefecture.

"Under the current circumstances, I cannot comment on the matter," Onodera told reporters after he visited the local government office to apologize for the helicopter incident that occurred last Monday.

Two Ground Self-Defense Force members died as the AH-64D attack helicopter crashed in the city of Kanzaki, injuring one and burning down a house.

In the meeting with Saga Gov Yoshinori Yamaguchi, Onodera vowed to take every possible measure to ensure safe operation of SDF aircraft and determine the cause of the accident through an investigation by experts.

The government has been in talks with local officials and others concerned for deployment of the Osprey at Saga airport used by both civilian and military aircraft.

Yamaguchi said at the start of the meeting, "The SDF need to make absolutely sure that they do not cause trouble for civilians."

He told reporters after the meeting he will review results of the government's probe into the accident and measures to prevent incidents involving SDF aircraft before moving forward in talks on Osprey deployment in his prefecture.

Onodera met with residents affected by the crash and the local mayor the previous day to apologize for the accident in person.

A civic group of labor union members in Saga submitted a request to the Defense Ministry a day after the accident for the Osprey plan to be scrapped.

© KYODO

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