TOKYO • The US military yesterday grounded its tilt-rotor MV-22 Osprey aircraft in Japan after Tokyo called for a halt to flights.
This follows a crash south-west of Okinawa Island, the first accident involving the aircraft in the Asian nation.
The aircraft has become a lightning rod for opposition to the US military presence in Okinawa. Local groups seeking the closure of American bases say it is prone to crashing and poses a danger to residents.
A US-operated Osprey ditched in the sea on Tuesday, injuring its crew of five, after a hose connected to the aircraft broke during a refuelling exercise.
Footage aired by Japanese public broadcaster NHK showed the main wings of the Osprey broken in half and the cockpit, separated from a half-submerged fuselage, drifting ashore.
The incident quickly sparked anger on Okinawa, a strategic US military outpost.
Japanese Defence Minister Tomomi Inada asked US Forces Japan commander Jerry Martinez to provide further information about the accident and suspend operations of the Osprey fleet until safety concerns are allayed.
The United States says it has two Osprey squadrons in Japan.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters that "securing safety is prerequisite" to the aircraft's deployment in Japan.
The Osprey, built by Boeing and Textron's Bell Helicopter, is designed to take off like a heli- copter and rotate its propellers to fly like a plane. It has suffered incidents in other parts of the world.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE