Despite calls from the Japanese government to ground Marine Corps V-22 Ospreys in the wake of an Aug. 5 crash off the east coast of Australia, the service will continue flight operations, the commanding general of III Marine Expeditionary Force said Wednesday morning.
After an initial examination of the facts and circumstances leading up to the mishap, the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit determined the fleet is still safe to fly, Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson said.
Nicholson said a 48-hour operational pause was observed by the MEU in order to review unit safety procedures, and a full investigation, still underway, will include eyewitness accounts; reviews of aircraft maintenance logs and crew training records; and analysis of all factors contributing to the mishap.
"I would never put my aircrews or any local citizens in danger by flying an aircraft that I do not believe is safe and ready to fly," Nicholson said in a statement. "We did not take the decision to continue flight operations lightly."
The commanding officer of the squadron, VMM-265 out of Futenma, Japan, also met with squadron members to re-emphasize adherence to flight standards and safety procedures, Nicholson said.
Three Marines were killed in the Aug. 5 crash: 1st Lt. Benjamin Cross, Cpl. Nathaniel Ordway, and Pfc. Ruben Velasco.
Dive teams continue to conduct salvage and recovery operations at the crash site, with assistance from the Australian Defence Force, Nicholson said.
"We mourn the loss of our Marines and grieve with their families," he said. "Please continue to keep all our Marines in your thoughts and prayers."
Particularly on Okinawa, where about 27,000 Marines are stationed, the Corps' use of the Osprey is a topic of hot contention.
Early in development, there were several high-fatality crashes involving the Osprey, which contributed to its reputation as an unsafe airframe.
While Marine officials say the Osprey now has one of the best safety records of any aircraft the Corps flies, the aircraft has continued to provoke protests on Okinawa.
In December 2016, a V-22, also from VMM-265, crash-landed in shallow water off the coast of Okinawa in a botched attempt at a precautionary landing. The incident drew ire from the governor of the Okinawa prefecture and resulted in a temporary grounding of all Ospreys in Japan. The cause of that mishap has not been made public.
In his statement, Nicholson emphasized that the Osprey, a unique tiltrotor aircraft that can fly like an airplane and take off and land like a helicopter, has proven a valuable asset in the Pacific, particularly in humanitarian aid missions such as those undertaken after the 2016 earthquake in Kumamoto, Japan; the 2015 earthquake in Nepal; and the 2013 super typhoon, Haiyan, in the Philippines.
"We live in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region and care very deeply for our international friends and partners," he said. "We value our aircrews and the Marines and sailors who fly in our aircraft, as well as the citizens we fly over in the United States, Japan, Australia, and throughout the world.
"III MEF will continue to train to ensure readiness while minimizing impact to our communities so we can operate safely when and where we are needed," he said.