Photo/IllutrationA cylindrical object found on the roof of a nursery school’s building in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, on Dec. 7 (Provided by Takehiro Kamiya)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

GINOWAN, Okinawa Prefecture--An object apparently from a U.S. military aircraft hit a nursery school building roof here on Dec. 7 as children played outside, stoking safety concerns and sparking furious reactions from local leaders.

“I cannot contain my anger,” Ginowan Mayor Atsushi Sakima said on Dec. 8 as he visited the Defense Ministry’s Okinawa Defense Bureau in Kadena in the prefecture to protest the incident.

“I would like the central government to realize the return of the Futenma base and fully discuss with the U.S. military measures to prevent a recurrence,” he said.

Midorigaoka nursery school, where the incident occurred, is about 300 meters from the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

The cylindrical object was discovered on the school building’s tin roof at around 10:20 a.m. on Dec. 7 when staff checked the area after workers and children heard a thud, according to Takehiro Kamiya, head of the school.

None of about 70 children and staff at the school were injured in the incident.

The plastic object bore a red label reading “Remove before flight” in English and the letters “U.S.,” leading local authorities to believe it dropped from a U.S. military aircraft.

The object is 9.5 centimeters tall, 7.5 cm in diameter and 213 grams in weight, according to Ginowan police. It smelled “burnt” when it was found, Kamiya said.

Sakima requested a halt to flights over the downtown area of the city, saying the falling part apparently belonged to U.S. military aircraft.

According to central government officials, an eyewitness report said a large CH-53E helicopter took off from the Futenma base in the direction of the nursery school around 10:15 a.m.

Koichiro Nakajima, director of the Okinawa Defense Bureau, said the bureau has not received a response from the U.S. military about whether the object was part of a U.S. military aircraft even a day after its inquiry.

Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga also expressed outrage about the incident on Dec. 7.

“Parts were dropped very casually,” he said. “The situation is not improving no matter how many times we protest. Okinawa’s circumstances should be questioned in a fresh light.”

The incident took place when children aged 2 to 6 were playing in the schoolyard adjacent to the building.

The upper part of the schoolyard was covered by a shading net.

One of the staff saw the object bounce on the net, according to Kamiya.

“We are living in constant fear of a possible crash (of a U.S. military aircraft),” Kamiya said. “The Futenma base should be closed as soon as possible.”

Okinawa prefectural government statistics show that there were 67 cases reported of parts falling from U.S. military aircraft since the island’s reversion to Japan in May 1972 until Dec. 1 of this year.

The Futenma facility is deemed dangerous as it is located in the middle of the city and with many schools around it.

The project to move the functions of the airfield to a new base to be built off the Henoko district of Nago in the prefecture is under way, based on the 1996 agreement between Tokyo and Washington to return Futenma's land to Japan.