32nd anniversary of JAL jumbo jet crash observed


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

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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.

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

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 )


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

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 )

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