In the latest of a series of unfortunate events involving Marine Corps aircraft in Okinawa, an MV-22 Osprey had an engine intake cowling drop off while in flight this week, Marine Corps officials said.
The Osprey is the third Marine Corps aircraft in the region to lose a part while in flight in the last three months; in one case, a window fell off in a field near Daini Futenma Elementary School, where dozens of children were playing, and resulted in minor injuries to a young boy.
The most recent incident took place Thursday and involved an Osprey from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 365, attached to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, officials with III MEF told Military.com in a statement. The aircraft had returned to Marine Corps Air Station Futenma after a scheduled flight when aircrew reported the missing part, officials said.
The cowling weighs about 30 pounds and is made of carbon fiber composite, according to the statement. It was recovered after washing ashore Friday on Oodomari Beach on Ikei Island, more than 20 miles from MCAS Futenma. Officials said there was no property damage, and nobody was hurt by the fallen part.
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Stars and Stripes first reported the mishap Friday, citing the Okinawa Defense Bureau.
III MEF officials said the episode is being investigated, but did not address whether the Marines had discussed it with Okinawan authorities.
“Investigation into the incident is ongoing,” officials said in the statement. “Every MV-22 has and will continue to be inspected to ensure safe flight operations. Nothing is more important than the safety of our aircrews and the citizens of Japan as we train to fight in the defense of this alliance.”
Marine officials apologized in December, when a window fell from a CH-53E Super Stallion into the field where children were playing. A week earlier, a “small cylindrical object” reportedly fell from another Futenma-based aircraft onto the roof of a nearby daycare.
Recent months have also included a rash of emergency landings by Marine aircraft, which have drawn the ire of Okinawa residents who fear the aircraft pose a danger to the local civilian community. There were three emergency helicopter landings in January alone, involving an AH-1 Viper, an AH-1 Cobra, and a UH-1 Huey. In all cases, the landings were precautionary and did not result in injury or damage to any property.
A fourth emergency landing in October involved a Super Stallion that caught fire while in flight. The aircraft put down in a field and resulted in unspecific damage to civilian property and extensive damage to the helicopter. Super Stallion operations were paused for 96 hours while officials investigated the incident.
After the December, the Marine Corps also implemented new inspection protocols to ensure aircraft parts were secured properly.
Stars and Stripes reported that Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga, who has been outspoken in his opposition to the Marine Corps presence on the island, called the Marine Corps “crazy” following the most recent incident.
"The U.S. military is losing control. There is no sign of improvement even after protests are made,” Stripes reported the local Mainichi newspaper quoted him as saying.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis made a formal apology to Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera in January after the string of incidents. The Marines have also agreed to allow Japanese inspectors to verify that locally based aircraft are safe to fly.