US Osprey planes in Japan tsunami drill amid protests
Two US Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey planes took part in a tsunami disaster drill in Japan Sunday, despite protests from local people who question the safety of the tilt-rotor aircraft.
It was the first time that the combat troop carrier has been used in a disaster drill organised by a Japanese community. The aircraft was deployed in a disaster drill at the US Yokota airbase in Tokyo last August, media reports said.
The two aircraft flew from the US Marine base at Iwakuni in western Japan to the coastal town of Shirahama on the Kii peninsula south of Osaka Sunday morning.
They transported a medical team and eight people playing the part of the injured as well as emergency supplies to a Japanese naval helicopter-carrying destroyer offshore, media reports said.
More than 500 people, including protesters opposed to the presence of Ospreys in Japan, gathered near the airport in Shirahama.
"Ospreys have been called defective aircraft. How can we accept them when there is the possibility of them crashing?" a resident told the TBS television network.
Some 6,400 people -- 3,200 citizens as well as local government members, firefighters and Japanese and US troops -- took part in the drill designed to test readiness against a massive earthquake and tsunami off the Pacific coast.
A total of 26 aircraft were deployed in the operation in Wakayama prefecture, media reports said.
"We asked everybody, even the US forces, to join us because we need to save the lives of as many people as possible," Wakayama Governor Yoshinobu Nisaka told a news conference, adding that he had no objections to the use of Ospreys.
The presence of US Marine Ospreys has sparked protests from Japanese since they first arrived in the country in July 2012. There are now reported to be two dozen Ospreys in Japan.
The Osprey is a hybrid aircraft with rotors that allow it to take off like a helicopter and engines that can tilt forward, enabling it to fly like an aeroplane at greater speed than a chopper.
The aircraft was plagued with problems in its early years in the 1990s. But US officials say the technical glitches have been solved and the US Marine Corps says it has proven invaluable.