At 2:18 PM on August 13, 2004, a U.S. Marine Corps CH-53D transport helicopter crashed and burst into flames at Okinawa International University in Ginowan City. Scattered about the area were fragments of both the helicopter and concrete from an administrative building. A section of the fuselage even shot through the wall of a room where a baby was sleeping.
Moments after the crash, U.S. Marines, who came over the fence from the adjacent MCAS Futenma Air Station, sealed off the crash site and occupied the university grounds. The Okinawa Prefectural Police and Ginowan City Fire Department were placed under the control of the U.S. military and not even permitted to enter the site. Members of the media and university officials were also forced to evacuate the area.
What precisely prevented Japan from taking any action was the “barrier” that had been erected by the Japan-US Status of Forces Agreement. The Agreed Minutes to the Agreement under Article 17 of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty specify that the consent of the U.S. military is necessary for seizure of “U.S. military property.” The United States used this agreement as a shield for not acceding to requests by the Okinawa Prefectural Police or others to even inspect the aircraft, which is a necessary step to determine the cause of the crash.
Over 11 years have passed since that day and there still has been no change in this provision ? absurd as it is ? which effectively authorizes “occupation.”