Relatives of the 520 victims of the 1985 crash of a Japan Airlines jumbo jet on Saturday marked the 32nd anniversary of the accident in Gunma Prefecture.
In the morning, bereaved relatives climbed to the crash site on a ridge atop Mt Osutaka, at a height of 1,565 meters, where the JAL Boeing 747 with 524 people aboard crashed on a flight from Tokyo to Osaka. Only four survivors were found when the first rescue workers arrived 12 hours later.
The relatives gathered at a cenotaph, offered prayers and rang a "bell of safety" installed at the site.
"An aviation accident that claimed so many lives should not be forgotten," said Masato Sasaki, a 57-year-old doctor from Yatsushiro, Kumamoto Prefecture, who lost his uncle Yutaka Sasaki, co-pilot of the aircraft, in the accident.
Sasaki, who had not visited the site for about 30 years, said he apologized in front of grave markers for his long absence.
Masanori Takishita, 77, and wife Fumiyo, 74, from Tokyo, have been visiting the site since their second son Hiroshi was killed in the crash when he was just 11 years old.
Traveling alone, Hiroshi was on his way to visit relatives in Hyogo Prefecture, western Japan, after playing a baseball game.
"I want to see my grown-up son," Fumiyo said, as her last memory is of an 11-year-old boy who loved playing and watching baseball.
JAL President Yoshiharu Ueki joined relatives in climbing the trail in the afternoon. He paid his respects to victims and pledged that his company would do its utmost make sure such a tragedy never happened again. Only 6% of JAL's current employees were with the company when the accident occurred.
At 6:56 p.m. -- the exact time of the crash -- a ceremony was held in Ueno village at the foot of the mountain, attended by about 300 relatives and JAL officials. A moment of silence was observed.
JAL Flight 123 took off from Tokyo's Haneda Airport at 6:12 p.m. on Aug 12, 1985. Twelve minutes into the flight, a rupture in the plane's rear pressure bulkhead led to its vertical stabilizer being blown off, destroying its hydraulics and rendering it uncontrollable. With a total loss of hydraulic pressure, the captain attempted unsuccessfully to regain control of the aircraft as it descended uncontrollably in a flight condition known as the "Dutch roll." At 6:56 p.m., the plane crashed into the mountain.
Since 2006, JAL has been displaying messages written by passengers and a cabin attendant before they died, at its Safety Promotion Center at Haneda Airport.
A Japanese government investigation commission in 1987 concluded that the accident was caused by improper repairs conducted by Boeing Co., the aircraft's manufacturer, on the pressure bulkhead with JAL failing to detect any problems in its maintenance checks.
In 1988, local police served papers on 20 people from JAL, the transport ministry and Boeing on suspicion of professional negligence resulting in death and injury.
But prosecutors decided not to indict anyone.© Japan Today/Kyodo