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Marine CH-53E helicopters on Okinawa to resume flying Wednesday

Marine CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters on Okinawa will resume flight operations on Wednesday, one week after a helicopter caught fire and was forced to make an emergency landing.

On Oct. 12, the commander of III Marine Expeditionary Force ordered all CH-53E helicopters at Okinawa to suspend flight operations for 96 hours. It was not immediately clear on Tuesday why the pause was extended to six days.

“I would never allow an aircrew to operate an aircraft that I thought was unsafe,” Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, III MEF commander, said in a news release. “The CH-53E is a reliable aircraft that has served this Alliance successfully for many decades here on Okinawa and in mainland Japan.”

Nicholson was satisfied that the CH-53E Super Stallions were safe enough to resume flight operations after aviation experts were unable to find any maintenance issues or other problems, the news release says.

“This decision is not taken lightly, and was only decided upon following consultation with 1st Marine Aircraft Wing aviation professionals, and subject matter experts from the U.S. Naval Safety Center who arrived on Okinawa from the continental United States to assist in the overall investigation,” the news release says.

No one was injured when a Marine CH-53E made an emergency landing outside the Northern Training Area on Oct. 11. Local first responders extinguished the fire and Navy Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 21 evacuated the helicopter’s crew.

The CH-53Es have the most serious readiness problems of all Marine aircraft. The Corps is refurbishing all 146 Super Stallions, but the process is moving slowly.

So far, 11 CH-53Es have been reset and returned to the fleet, said Marine Corps spokeswoman Capt. Sarah Burns. Six more Super Stallions will complete the process and return to the fleet by the end of 2017, she said. All the CH-53Es are expected to be refurbished in four years.

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