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Wednesday, December 14, 2016, 17:10

US grounds Osprey aircraft in Japan after Okinawa crash

By Reuters

US grounds Osprey aircraft in Japan after Okinawa crash
This photograph taken on April 18, 2016, shows a US Marine tilt-rotor Osprey aircraft landing at an emergency helicopter landing site in Minami-Aso, Kumamoto prefecture. A US military Osprey aircraft made a crash-landing in water off Okinawa Prefecture on December 13, local news agencies reported, citing police and government sources. (AFP / Kazuhiro Nogi)

TOKYO -- The United States military on Wednesday grounded its tilt-rotor MV-22 Osprey aircraft in Japan after Tokyo called for a halt to flights following a crash southwest of Okinawa island, the first accident involving the aircraft in the Asian nation.

The aircraft has become a lightning rod for opposition to the US military presence in Okinawa, with local groups seeking the closure of American bases saying it is prone to crash and poses a danger to residents.

A US-operated Osprey crashed into the sea on Tuesday, injuring its crew of five

A US-operated Osprey crashed into the sea on Tuesday , injuring its crew of five. Pictures of the scene aired by Japan's public broadcaster NHK showed the aircraft broke into at least three pieces in waters close to the coast.

"No flights in Japan are planned today," a US Marine Corps spokesman in Okinawa said. The US military was still investigating the cause of the crash, which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe described as "regrettable" on Wednesday.

The Osprey, built by Boeing Co and Textron Inc's

Bell Helicopter and designed to take off like a helicopter and rotate its propellers to fly like a plane, has suffered a series of incidents in other parts of the world prior to the crash in Okinawa.

The aircraft has become a lightning rod for opposition to the US military presence in Okinawa, with local groups claiming it poses a danger to resident

The aircraft has become a lightning rod for opposition to the US military presence in Okinawa , with local groups that want American bases to close claiming the aircraft is prone to crash and poses a danger to resident.

The United States says it has two Osprey squadrons in Japan, although it doesn't disclose the exact number of aircraft. A squadron typically comprises between 12 to 24 aircraft

"We regret the accident, but we do not regret the work of our young pilots," Lieutenant General Lawrence D. Nicholson, the USMC commander on Okinawa, told a news briefing on the island broadcast by NHK.

The first Osprey crash in Japan could further delay plans to relocate some US forces on the island and comes amid a surge in resentment against US bases after an American civilian working for the military was arrested this year over the murder of a 20-year-old Japanese woman .

Okinawa, which was under US occupation until 1972, hosts the bulk of the approximately 50,000 US military personnel in Japan.

US grounds Osprey aircraft in Japan after Okinawa crash
US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter (C) shakes hands with Japan's State Minister of Defense Kenji Wakamiya (R) during their inspection the Japanese Ship Izumo, a helicopter carrier of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force at the Yokosuka Base in Kanagawa prefecture on Dec 6, 2016. (AFP/ Kazuhiro Nogi)
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