By MATTHEW M. BURKE
CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa – Japanese first responders joined their Marine Corps counterparts here Thursday to practice how they’d respond if a U.S. military helicopter crashed in the local community.
The Bilateral Aircraft Mishap Functional Training Exercise covered each phase of an aircraft mishap from the initial call to taking casualties to area hospitals. It was hosted by Marine Corps Installations Pacific and Okinawa’s director of crisis management, Yasudome Masaki.
The annual event was first held in 2007, three years after a Marine CH-53D Sea Stallion crashed into the grounds of Okinawa International University, just outside Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan.
That incident sparked protests on the island and contributed to local fears over aircraft safety.
“Japanese and Marine Corps first responders have a very long and rich tradition of working together,” MCIPAC’s provost marshal, Lt. Col. John Roach, said prior to the drill. “We are integrated and collaborative at all levels.”
The exercise was intended to increase planning and emergency coordination across the U.S. military, Japanese government and local agencies, said Marine spokeswoman 1st Lt. Ash Fairow.
The service branches on Okinawa alternate participating each year, she said. The Marine Corps last took part in the exercise in 2014.
The hourlong exercise began just before 10 a.m. at the Camp Hansen firefighting training site. Rotors from what appeared to be a mock-up of an MV-22 Osprey had separated from the aircraft’s fuselage and landed atop a vehicle. Marine role-players splayed out among dummies on the ground near the aircraft as firefighters stoked flames in the fuselage and beneath the vehicle’s hood.
Sirens grew louder and louder as smoke began to billow toward a clear blue sky.
A trio of Japanese police cars arrived first as the fire raged. They rushed to the aircraft and began pulling simulated casualties away from the wreck. They were followed by Japanese ladder trucks, administrative vehicles and ambulances. The ladder trucks began pouring water down on the blaze from above.
Within minutes, a command center was setup, and a triage tent began inflating. Fire trucks, police and ambulances from the U.S. military arrived.
Roach said the crash response may appear chaotic but was highly coordinated.
“Our continued goal through all of these activities is to save lives and ultimately to ensure the safety of our community,” he said.
Masaki said he was happy to resume the exercise after a long hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are hoping to work closely together so we can improve the response capability through this training,” he said through a translator.