The wreckage of the CH-53 transport helicopter in a field in the village of Higashi near the U.S. military’s Northern Training Area in northern Okinawa Prefecture on Oct. 12. (Video taken by Takahiro Kumakura)

HIGASHI, Okinawa Prefecture--A U.S. military transport helicopter caught fire in mid-flight and crash-landed on grazing land on private property here Oct. 11, renewing safety concerns about the deployment of such craft near a residential area.

The CH-53 helicopter was taking part in a routine training drill when the pilot was forced to make an emergency landing just 300 meters from a house outside the U.S. military's Northern Training Area around 5:20 p.m. The helicopter burst into flames, leaving charred wreckage.

None of the seven U.S. military personnel aboard the helicopter was injured, nor were any residents in the village of Higashi, according to the Defense Ministry.

Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga inspected the crash site the following afternoon and said he would file a protest over the incident with Tokyo and Washington.

He was incensed that it occurred less than a year after an Osprey crash-landed offshore from Nago, southwest of Higashi, last December.

Okinawa is home to about 70 percent of all U.S. bases in Japan, which Onaga dryly noted explained the number of incidents involving U.S. military aircraft in the southernmost prefecture over the years.

All that was visible Oct. 12 was the burned out steel frame of the helicopter.

A local resident alerted the fire department to the incident around 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 11. It immediately dispatched firefighters to help the U.S. military combat the fire.

Prefectural police cordoned off nearby prefectural road No. 70.

The helicopter landed about 2 kilometers south of Takae Elementary School in the Takae district of Higashi, according to prefectural authorities.

The Takae district is in the vicinity of the Northern Training Area, which is frequently used by helicopters and tilt-rotor Ospreys for drills.

Six helipads were completed by the end of last December in the Northern Training Area near the Takae District as a condition for the return to Japan of more than half of the land there.

“We will file a strong complaint with the U.S. military and call for effective measures (to prevent a recurrence),” said Koichiro Nakajima, director-general of the Defense Ministry’s Okinawa Defense Bureau on Oct. 12.

Seikyu Iju, the mayor of Higashi, said after visiting near the site of the crash-landing Oct. 11 that he would lodge a vehement protest over the accident.

“It is a situation that should not have occurred,” he said.

In August 2004, a CH-53 helicopter crashed at Okinawa International University in Ginowan, a major city in Okinawa.

An Osprey from the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan went down off northeastern Australia during an exercise last August, killing three crew members. Futenma is the only U.S. military facility in Japan where the tilt-rotor aircraft is deployed.

Between June and September, Ospreys made emergency landings in Okinawa's Iejima island, at Amami Airport in Kagoshima Prefecture, Oita Airport in Oita Prefecture, and Shin-Ishigaki Airport in Okinawa's Ishigaki island. Engine trouble and other factors were cited for the emergencies.