From time to time emergency hotline operators will receive a call during where no one responds on the other end. This presents a difficult problem as it could be a prank, an accidental dial, or someone in grave danger and unable to communicate. But sometimes it’s something completely unexplainable.
In Akita City, too, every once in a while a call will come into the fire department’s 119 emergency number, but rather than a voice the operator can only hear various mechanical buzzing and rumbling sounds.
The spookiest such incident happened in 2014 in neighboring Aomori Prefecture when fire trucks were called to a villa deep in the Hakkoda Mountains at about midnight. However, when they arrived no one was inside, all the doors and windows were locked and intact, and all the phones where properly hung up. A fault in the phone line was blamed but no full explanation was ever found.
Although rare, happening about once or twice a year, these phantom calls are considered a normal part of the job and probably due to a technical glitch. Each time, protocol dictates that the operator hang up, then call back. If the line is busy or no one answers, then firefighters are sent to investigate it as a potential emergency.
Since May of this year, however, cases of phones seemingly calling 119 by themselves have spiked to nine within the city. The calls occur at various times of the day, always from a landline, and often when the residents aren’t even home. Some homeowners were surprised to come home to a fire brigade parked out front, while others were woken in the middle of the night by sirens only to find that their house had called 119, seemingly by itself.
This increased frequency has raised the severity of the problem from a mild inconvenience to a potentially life-threatening nuisance, so Akita fire departments are pushing phone company NTT East to look into it more seriously.
Readers of the news were certainly beginning to take it more seriously too, because who doesn’t love a good mystery?
“What a peculiar thing to happen….”
“I wonder if someone was screwing with the switchboard or if it was the result of maintenance testing.”
“Cosmic rays maybe?”
“I know this is serious and dangerous, but I think this is a great topic for occult lovers.”
“It’s got to be someone breaking in and pulling a prank.”
“I remember reading about the Aomori incident. They said it was the wind, but the wind alone couldn’t have done it.”
“I’ve heard if there’s a short in the overhead wires and the wind blows it just right, it’ll ‘dial’ 119.”
“That’s a good mystery.”
NTT East have been looking into the matter since September, but still no explanation has been found. Meanwhile the Akita fire chief inspected their 119 system and found everything to be in order. He also told media, “This is just my opinion, but based on what I’ve seen, I think it is from really old equipment like ‘black telephones’ that still haven’t upgraded to touchtone.”
“Black telephone” is the Japanese term for a rotary telephone. For those too young to remember, these phones dialed using a plastic circle that made a sort of clicking pulse sound while is rotated. This pulse sent the corresponding number information across the phone line.
It still seems like a very possible cause though, as those subtle pulse sounds are rather easy to imitate, especially by a short in the wire. And since fax machines are still widely in play in Japan, it’s not so unbelievable that a few people are still clinging to their rotary phones.
However a lot of unanswered questions remain: Why is it suddenly increasing now? Why is it only happening in Akita? Also, why has the police hotline, which is 110 and seemingly equally susceptible to these mystery calls, not received any?
Sources: Mainichi Shimbun, Hachima Kiko
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