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32nd anniversary of JAL jumbo jet crash observed

19 Comments

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

©2017 GPlusMedia Inc.

19 Comments
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One of the most tragic elements of this event was how many more survivors there would have been if the Japanese government hadn't botched the rescue response.  A C-130 returning to Yokota AB from Okinawa was tracking the airliner and arrived over the crash site within moments of impact.  The plane's crew then directed in a helicopter from Yokota which arrived within the hour as the C-130 returned to base because of low fuel.  The helicopter's crew prepared to winch down to assist survivors, but were shocked when Yokota authorities told them to return to base immediately.  Apparently, the Japanese liaison at the base had told them that the Japanese government did not desire American assistance.  About two hours later, a helicopter from Yomiuri Shimbun arrived at the crash site.  In the meantime, the initial Japanese response team had checked into an inn at a village at the bottom of the mountain and would not reach the site until 12 hours after the crash.  The four survivors reported that they heard many more people around them moving or making noise throughout the night before finally going silent.  The Japanese government has spent the last 30 years covering up for their inept response that caused the casualty count to be so much higher than it needed to be.

17 ( +17 / -0 )

Why Boeing not indicted while Takata resulted in bankruptcy after indictment.

-12 ( +2 / -14 )

Kyu-chan was on that flight. Sayonara. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WLygl1-0FTA

8 ( +8 / -0 )

there is a great Japanese movie starring Ken Watanabe about the crash. high recommend. “Shizumanu Taiyo” (“The Sun That Doesn’t Set”)

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Why Boeing not indicted while Takata resulted in bankruptcy after indictment.

Because it was not a widespread problem in the 747 aircraft. A single defect in a single aircraft caused the crash. How many 747 aircraft have crashed? How many from the same problem?

On the other hand, Takata knew their airbags were unsafe, but covered up this information, and was reluctant to recall those airbags already in circulation. Numerous complaints were ignored, and Takata had to be forced to recall airbags.

You can listen to the entire event on Youtube, it was recorded by the flight towers and flight data recorder. It's quite scary.

12 ( +13 / -1 )

documentary of the crash here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P3iAV4Aktrk

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Why Boeing not indicted while Takata resulted in bankruptcy after indictment. American military helicopter was first on the site but their help was rejected by Japan, also a female survivor could hear many people still alive just after the crash, Japan decision to postpone the search until the morning caused more people to die in the cold night air. There were negligence in both America and Japan for this crash and the survivors

4 ( +4 / -0 )

One of the most tragic elements of this event was how many more survivors there would have been if the Japanese government hadn't botched the rescue response. A C-130 returning to Yokota AB from Okinawa was tracking the airliner and arrived over the crash site within moments of impact. 

Not "within moments" of impact, but nearly 20 minutes after the JAL aircraft disappeared from radar at 6.56 pm, the presumed time of the crash.

There's very little remaining daylight at that time. If you're in Japan now, you can verify this for yourself. The crash report gives sunset time for that particular area as "about 1840", and the C130 report as 1915. So the helicopter can only have arrived after dark, and whatever crew were available for working on the ground would have have been limited by remote and difficult terrain, spread of wreckage, available lighting equipment, and their own medical skills. Not to mention that there were upwards of 500 passengers and crew. It is optimistic to simply assume that they could quickly locate, identify, and treat those who could be rescued among the many dead and beyond saving.

So while the subsequent rescue operation may have been botched, presupposing "many" survivors is based on information we don't really have. How many anyway? 5? 10? 100? Aspects of this incident have every appearance of being exaggerated in the interests of a good story. For example, the claim that "The four survivors reported that they heard many more people around them moving or making noise throughout the night" is, in all information I can find, based on the testimony of one survivor only, an off-duty stewardess. And information on a Yomiuri helicopter flying over the crash site during the night is surprisingly hard to find for those of us who prefer not to trawl through the inevitable conspiracy websites.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

sangetsu03

Because it was not a widespread problem in the 747 aircraft. A single defect in a single aircraft caused the crash. How many 747 aircraft have crashed? How many from the same problem?

Wikipedia says - The explosive decompression was caused by a faulty repair performed by Boeing after a tailstrike incident during a landing seven years earlier. A doubler plate on the rear bulkhead of the plane was improperly repaired, compromising the plane's airworthiness. Cabin pressurization continued to expand and contract the improperly repaired bulkhead until the day of the accident, when the faulty repair finally failed, causing the explosive decompression that ripped off a large portion of the tail and caused the loss of hydraulic controls to the entire plane.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

@Schopenhauer - Boeing haven't had continual problems relating to the same issue. Takata had continued occurrences with their defective product and tried to cover it up. Completely different.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

The worst single plane air disaster in history, and many of the family members are still not getting a straight story from the government as to why the rescue operation was botched.

Just as an aside, BTW, this is why Mountain Day is the 11th and not the 12th.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

I learned about this through the movie Climber's High (2008), about an editor covering it. Not hard hitting but has some good moments. Check and Double Check

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I get teary-eyed every year on this date as I remember this tragic event and a friend of mine who passed away on the flight. You see, we worked together teaching English prior to this flight. We were both employees of JALCOS and had taught English to future stewardesses for JAL. In early August the month the plane went down, I flew back to America. While there, I read about the crash in the L.A. Times. It read something like, 'Rossmoor man passes away on flight (story pg. 16). I quickly turned to page 16 and recognized my friend who taught with me that summer. I was shocked and saddened immediately. When I returned back to Japan to continue teaching, I remained silent for several months before I finally asked my boss a question that had been nagging at me. I asked, 'If I had been in Japan last August, might I have been asked to teach in Osaka instead of the person who passed away. There was dead silence from my boss and a look in his eyes that suggested maybe I would have. I say this because my friend was a student working part-time while I was a trained language instructor working at Jalcos for more than four years.

I am very happy to still be with you all, but I will always think of the victims and pray for them and their families every year. And as Kyu Sakamoto sang, Ue o muite . . .

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Kitzrow - I may know you, I'm Cliff Woolley, I taught for JAL and JALCOS 15 years from around 1980 including during this tragedy. I took Kyu Sakamoto's widow and daughters to some musicals in Hawaii, we all cried our eyes out. Feel free to drop me a line at cliffworks.net.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Kyu-chan was on that flight. Sayonara.  Sakamoto's "Ue o muite arukou" is a great song and holds up well.  The crash was a terrible tragedy.  And so is, "But prosecutors decided not to indict anyone."

3 ( +3 / -0 )

There is a series, if not completely authentic, decent at least, dealing with the tragedy's aftermath. It is called "Shizumanu Taiyou" but the recent television series is not available in English, as far as I know.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Ther is a good documentary series called 'Mayday' analizing this and many other air disasters in detail. its unclear if Boeing is guilty or the just made JAL not loosing face. For sure the responsible person at JAL to check the repair comited suicide.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@ Wipeout, I knew I should have sighted my source because otherwise some keyboard warrior would tell me that it was from a "conspiracy website."  My source is the 2012 Routledge book, "Dealing with Disaster in Japan:  Responses to the Flight JL 123 Crash" by Christopher P. Hood.  I suggest you purchase it and read it.  It's available in hardcover.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I knew I should have sighted my source because otherwise some keyboard warrior would tell me that it was from a "conspiracy website." My source is the 2012 Routledge book, "Dealing with Disaster in Japan: Responses to the Flight JL 123 Crash" by Christopher P. Hood. I suggest you purchase it and read it.

Well here's how it is. I appreciate your inclusion of your source. I won't be buying the book, because it's not worth my while, or money (even if it were competitively priced, which it isn't), just for the purpose of checking if you're on the level with your information. I'd have to take it on trust that the book itself is a good source (as it happens, it looks reliable enough), and additionally take it on trust that you have appropriately represented it in your comment above. Which, given the nature of comment threads, I don't.

The C-130 arrived at the scene much later than you say. Apart from being cavalier with the facts, it's quite an important difference when the plane crashed before nightfall but the first aircraft capable of putting people on the ground didn't make it until well after nightfall (8 p.m. or later since you said "within the hour"). They and any other helicopters sent in may have been able to extract survivors, but as that didn't happen, we don't know for sure what would have transpired, or even how many survivors there actually were. We do know there were a vast number of passengers, and can be certain that many of them died in the impact, explosion and fire, while others would have expired no matter what treatment they received and no matter how soon they received it. That's about all that can be said with absolute certainty.

According to your comment, there would have been "many" lives saved if the first helicopter crew had been able to winch down to the site. That presupposes many survivors, and of those survivors, many people in good enough condition to survive with treatment. Which may be true, but is likely unknown, even though the bodies of victims were later examined by medical professionals who made that conclusion. Because we don't actually know which of the victims would have been taken off first, or when. Rescuers would have had to go through dozens to possibly hundreds of people, selecting those with the best chance of survival. Would they have got it right? That is not easy even under good conditions, and a large crash site on a mountain in darkness isn't good conditions.

Your comment was slanted towards a particular conclusion: incompetence by the Japanese authorities and by the rescue teams. Which is certainly a strong possibility given some of the things that happened. However, if individual facts you presented don't stand up, it makes everything a bit "bloke down the pub", and the conclusion you build on them much less justifiable. I was pointing out those aspects of your comment that had the appearance of being misremembered or exaggerated. So I still question, because I haven't been able to find the info myself, whether all four survivors actually spoke of hearing other people alive; whether those four - severely injured, immobilized, in darkness, and probably in shock - were in a position (assuming you didn't put this word in their mouth in the first place) to accurately judge whether there were "many" survivors; and whether a Yomiuri Shimbun helicopter was ever in the area of the site before the arrival of rescue workers.

If that's all in your book, by all means quote it.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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