Japan Airlines Flight 123

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Japan Airlines Flight 123
JA8119 at Itami Airport 1984.jpg
JA8119, the aircraft involved, at Osaka International Airport in 1984
Accident summary
Date August 12, 1985
Summary In-flight structural failure due to maintenance errors, resulting in explosive decompression and aircraft tail loss, causing catastrophic hydraulic and flight control failure
Site Mount Osutaka-no-one
Ueno, Gunma Prefecture, Japan
36°0′5″N 138°41′38″E / 36.00139°N 138.69389°E / 36.00139; 138.69389Coordinates: 36°0′5″N 138°41′38″E / 36.00139°N 138.69389°E / 36.00139; 138.69389
Passengers 509
Crew 15
Injuries (non-fatal) 4
Fatalities 520
Survivors 4
Aircraft type Boeing 747SR-46
Operator Japan Airlines
Registration JA8119
Flight origin Haneda Airport, Tokyo
Destination Osaka Int'l Airport, Itami
Red X.svg JAL123 crash location
Blue pog.svg Tokyo International Airport (flight origin)
Green pog.svg Osaka International Airport (destination)

Japan Airlines Flight 123 (日本航空123便墜落事故 Nihonkōkū 123 Bin Tsuirakujiko?) was a scheduled domestic Japan Airlines passenger flight from Haneda Airport (Tokyo International Airport) to Osaka International Airport, Japan. On Monday, August 12, 1985, a Boeing 747SR operating this route suffered mechanical failure 12 minutes into the flight and, 32 minutes later, crashed into two ridges of Mount Takamagahara in Ueno, Gunma Prefecture, 100 kilometres (62 miles) from Tokyo. The crash site was on Osutaka Ridge (御巣鷹の尾根 Osutaka-no-One?), near Mount Osutaka. All 15 crew members and 505 of the 509 passengers on board died.

It is the deadliest single-aircraft accident in history, the deadliest aviation accident to occur on Japanese soil,[1] and the second-deadliest 747 air disaster and the second-deadliest accident behind the 1977 Tenerife airport disaster.[2] The fatalities added to August 1985 being commercial aviation's single deadliest month for passenger and crew deaths, part of the single deadliest such year, coming just ten days after the crash of Delta Air Lines Flight 191 killing 137 people and ten days before a fire on board British Airtours Flight 28M killed a further 55 people.

Aircraft and crew[edit]

JA8119, the accident aircraft, was a Boeing 747-146SR (Short Range). Its first flight was on January 28, 1974. It had 25,030 airframe hours and 18,835 cycles (one cycle equals one takeoff and landing).[1]

At the time of the accident the aircraft was on its fifth flight (of the six planned) of the day.[3] There were fifteen crew members, including three cockpit crew and 12 flight attendants.[4] The cockpit crew consisted of 49-year-old Captain Masami Takahama (高浜 雅己 Takahama Masami?) who was supervising the First Officer as a training instructor and handling the radio communications,[5][6][7] 39-year-old First Officer Yutaka Sasaki (佐々木 祐 Sasaki Yutaka?) who was under training for promotion to Captain,[7] and 46-year-old Flight Engineer Hiroshi Fukuda (福田 博 Fukuda Hiroshi?).[7] The captain was a very experienced pilot, having logged approximately 12,400 total flight hours—roughly 4,850 of which were accumulated flying 747s. The first officer had approximately 4,000 total flight hours to his credit and he had logged roughly 2,650 hours in the 747. The flight engineer had approximately 9,800 total flight hours, of which roughly 3,850 were accrued flying 747s.[8]


Final tally of passenger nationalities
Nationality Passengers Crew Total
 Japan 487 15 502
 China 1 0 1
 West Germany 2 0 2
 Hong Kong 4 0 4
 India 3 0 3
 Italy 2 0 2
 South Korea 3 0 3
 United Kingdom 1 0 1
 United States 6 0 6[9]
Total 509 15 524

The flight was around the Obon holiday period in Japan, when many Japanese people make yearly trips to their hometowns or resorts.[7] 299 of the passengers originated from Hyogo Prefecture and Osaka Prefecture in the Kansai region, making up 57% of the passengers.[9]

Around twenty-one non-Japanese boarded the flight.[10] By August 13, 1985, Geoffrey Tudor, a spokesperson for Japan Airlines, stated that the list included four Chinese residents of Hong Kong, two each from Italy and the United States, and one each from West Germany and the United Kingdom.[11] Some foreigners had dual nationalities, and some of them were residents of Japan.[9]

The four survivors, all female, were seated on the left side and toward the middle of seat rows 54–60, in the rear of the aircraft.[12]

The four survivors were:

  • Yumi Ochiai (落合 由美 Ochiai Yumi?), an off-duty JAL flight attendant, age 26, who was jammed between seats;
  • Hiroko Yoshizaki (吉崎 博子 Yoshizaki Hiroko?), a 34-year-old woman and her 8-year-old daughter Mikiko Yoshizaki (吉崎 美紀子 Yoshizaki Mikiko?), who were trapped in an intact section of the fuselage;
  • Keiko Kawakami (川上 慶子 Kawakami Keiko?) a 12-year-old girl, who was found from under the wreckage.[13] Air Disaster Volume 2 stated that she was wedged between branches in a tree.[14] Kawakami's parents and younger sister died in the crash, and she was the last survivor to be released from hospital. She was treated at the Matsue Red Cross Hospital (松江赤十字病院 Matsue Sekijūji Byōin, Japanese article) in Matsue, Shimane Prefecture before her release on Friday, November 22, 1985.[15]

Among the dead were singer Kyu Sakamoto; Koumo Soseke, the head of forestry for Osaka prefecture; and Japanese banker Akihisa Yukawa, the father of solo violinist Diana Yukawa.[16]

Sequence of events[edit]

Route of JAL123

Flight 123 pushed back from gate 18 at 6:04 p.m.[8] and took off from Runway 15L[3] at Tokyo International Airport (commonly referred to as Haneda Airport) in Ōta, Tokyo, Japan, at 6:12 p.m., 12 minutes behind schedule.[17] About 12 minutes after takeoff, at near cruising altitude over Sagami Bay, the aircraft's aft pressure bulkhead tore open due to a preexisting defect, stemming from a panel that had been incorrectly repaired after a tailstrike accident years earlier. This caused an explosive decompression, causing pressurized air to rush out of the cabin and bring down the ceiling around the rear lavatories. The air then blew the vertical stabilizer off the aircraft, severing all four hydraulic lines. A photograph taken from the ground some time later confirmed that the vertical stabilizer was missing.[18] Loss of cabin pressure at high altitude caused a lack of oxygen throughout; emergency oxygen masks for passengers were deployed. Flight attendants, including one off-duty, administered oxygen to various passengers using hand-held tanks.[7]

This photograph shows the plane as it looked after explosive decompression. The vertical stabilizer is missing (circled in red).

The pilots set their transponder to broadcast a distress signal. Tokyo Area Control Center directed the aircraft to descend and follow emergency landing vectors. Because of control problems, Capt. Takahama requested a vector to Haneda, knowing it was ideally suited for a 747 in case of an emergency.[19]

Hydraulic fluid completely drained away through the rupture. With total loss of hydraulic control and non-functional control surfaces, plus the lack of stabilizing influence from the vertical stabilizer, the aircraft began up and down oscillation in a phugoid cycle. In response, pilots exerted efforts to establish stability using differential engine thrust. Further measures to exert control, such as lowering the landing gear and flaps, interfered with control by throttle; the aircrew's ability to control the aircraft deteriorated.[citation needed]

Upon descending to 13,500 feet (4100 m), the pilots reported an uncontrollable aircraft. Heading over the Izu Peninsula the pilots turned towards the Pacific Ocean, then back towards the shore; they descended below 7,000 feet (2100 m) before returning to a climb. The aircraft reached 13,000 feet (4000 m) before entering an uncontrollable descent into the mountains and disappearing from radar at 6:56 p.m. at 6,800 feet (2100 m). In the final moments, the wing clipped a mountain ridge. During a subsequent rapid plunge, the plane then slammed into a second ridge, then flipped and landed on its back.[20] The aircraft's crash point, at an elevation of 1,565 metres (5,135 ft), is located in Sector 76, State Forest, 3577 Aza Hontani, Ouaza Narahara, Ueno Village, Tano District, Gunma Prefecture. The east-west ridge is about 2.5 kilometres (8,200 ft) north north west of Mount Mikuni.[21] Ed Magnuson of Time magazine said that the area where the aircraft crashed was referred to as the "Tibet" of Gunma Prefecture.[5]

The elapsed time from the bulkhead explosion to when the plane hit the mountain was estimated at 32 minutes – long enough for some passengers to write farewells to their families.[7][22] Subsequent simulator re-enactments with the mechanical failures suffered by the crashed plane failed to produce a better solution, or outcome; despite best efforts, none of the four flight crews in the simulations kept the plane aloft for as long as the 32 minutes achieved by the actual crew.[7]

Mikuni Range Mount Morai Mount Ogura Mount Takamagahara Mount Kobushi Mount Ogawa Mount Kinpu Chichibu Mountains Nobeyama Station Nobeyama Plateau Mount Fuji Mount Yoko, YatsugatakeOkuchichibu Mountains from Mt.Yokodake 01-7.jpg
About this image
Crash site as seen from Mount Yoko, Yatsugatake.

Delayed rescue operation[edit]

Japan Airlines 123 - sitting plan-2.svg

United States Air Force controllers at Yokota Air Base situated near the flight path of Flight 123 had been monitoring the distressed aircraft's calls for help. They maintained contact throughout the ordeal with Japanese flight control officials and made their landing strip available to the airplane. After losing track on radar, a U.S. Air Force C-130 from the 345 TAS was asked to search for the missing plane. The C-130 crew was the first to spot the crash site 20 minutes after impact, while it was still daylight. The crew sent the location to Japanese authorities and radioed Yokota Air Base to alert them and directed a Huey helicopter from Yokota to the crash site. Rescue teams were assembled in preparation to lower Marines down for rescues by helicopter tow line. Despite American offers of assistance in locating and recovering the crashed plane, an order arrived, saying that U.S. personnel were to stand down and announcing that the Japan Self-Defense Forces were going to take care of it themselves and outside help was not necessary. To this day, it is unclear who issued the order denying U.S. forces permission to begin search and rescue missions.[citation needed]

Although a JSDF helicopter eventually spotted the wreck during the night, poor visibility and the difficult mountainous terrain prevented it from landing at the site. The pilot reported from the air that there were no signs of survivors. Based on this report, JSDF personnel on the ground did not set out to the site the night of the crash. Instead, they were dispatched to spend the night at a makeshift village erecting tents, constructing helicopter landing ramps and engaging in other preparations, all 63 kilometers from the wreck. Rescue teams did not set out for the crash site until the following morning. Medical staff later found bodies with injuries suggesting that the individual had survived the crash only to die from shock, exposure overnight in the mountains, or from injuries that, if tended to earlier, would not have been fatal.[14] One doctor said "If the discovery had come ten hours earlier, we could have found more survivors."[23]

Off-duty flight attendant Yumi Ochiai, one of the four survivors out of 524 passengers and crew, recounted from her hospital bed that she recalled bright lights and the sound of helicopter rotors shortly after she awoke amid the wreckage, and while she could hear screaming and moaning from other survivors, these sounds gradually died away during the night.[14]


An animation of the aircraft's tailstrike incident seven years before the crash.
Diagram of correct and incorrect repairs of the bulkhead.

The official cause of the crash according to the report published by Japan's Aircraft Accident Investigation Commission is as follows:

  1. The aircraft was involved in a tailstrike incident at Osaka International Airport seven years earlier as JAL Flight 115, which damaged the aircraft's rear pressure bulkhead.
  2. The subsequent repair of the bulkhead did not conform to Boeing's approved repair methods. The Boeing technicians fixing the aircraft used two separate doubler plates, one with two rows of rivets and one with only one row when the procedure called for one continuous doubler plate with three rows of rivets to reinforce the damaged bulkhead.[24] The incorrect repair reduced the part's resistance to metal fatigue to about 70% compared to the correctly executed repair. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the one "doubler plate" which was specified for the job (the Federal Aviation Administration calls it a "splice plate" - essentially a patch) was cut into two pieces parallel to the stress crack it was intended to reinforce, "to make it fit".[25] This negated the effectiveness of two of the rows of rivets. During the investigation, Boeing calculated that this incorrect installation would fail after approximately 10,000 pressurizations; the aircraft accomplished 12,318 successful flights from the time that the faulty repair was made to when the crash happened.
  3. When the bulkhead gave way, the resulting explosive decompression ruptured the lines of all four hydraulic systems and ejected the vertical stabilizer. With the aircraft's flight controls disabled, the aircraft became uncontrollable.

Aftermath and legacy[edit]

Flight 123 accident monument in Fujioka
Cenotaph of flight 123

The Japanese public's confidence in Japan Airlines took a dramatic downturn in the wake of the disaster, with passenger numbers on domestic routes dropping by one-third. Rumors persisted that Boeing had admitted fault to cover up shortcomings in the airline's inspection procedures, thus protecting the reputation of a major customer.[14] In the months after the crash, domestic traffic decreased by as much as 25%. In 1986, for the first time in a decade, fewer passengers boarded JAL's overseas flights during the New Year period than the previous year. Some of them considered switching to All Nippon Airways as a safer alternative.[26]

Without admitting liability, JAL paid ¥780 million (7.6 million USD) to the victims' relatives in the form of "condolence money". Its president, Yasumoto Takagi (高木 養根 Takagi Yasumoto), resigned, while Hiroo Tominaga, a maintenance manager working for the company at Haneda, killed himself to apologize for the accident.[14][27]

In 2009, stairs with a handrail were installed to facilitate visitors' access to the crash site. Japan Transport Minister Seiji Maehara visited the site on August 12, 2010 to pray for the victims.[28]

In 2011, British academic Christopher Hood published a book, titled Dealing with Disaster in Japan: Responses to the Flight JL123 Crash, on the crash and its effect on Japanese society.[29][30]

Japan Airlines no longer uses flight number 123. After September 1, 1985, the flight was changed to Flight 127. Japan Air retired their last Boeing 747 on March 1, 2011, ending 41 years of service with the airliner. The route is now flown with a Boeing 767 or Boeing 777.

Families of the victims, together with local volunteer groups, hold an annual memorial gathering every August 12 near the crash site in Gunma Prefecture.[31]

The crash also led to the 2006 opening of the Safety Promotion Center.[32][33] It is located in the Daini Sogo Building on the grounds of Tokyo International Airport.[34] This center was created for training purposes to alert employees of the importance of airline safety and their personal responsibility to ensure safety. The center, which has displays regarding air safety, the history of the crash, and selected pieces of the aircraft and passenger effects (including handwritten farewell notes), is also open to the public by appointment made one day prior to the visit.

In popular culture[edit]

  • Japan Airlines Flight 123 is featured in the TV series Mayday (called Air Emergency in the U.S. and Air Crash Investigation in other countries outside Canada) 3rd season episode 3 "Out of Control (Japanese title "Osutaka-no-One (御巣鷹の尾根?)")". The crash also featured in the second series of Aircrash Confidential in programme 5 about 'Poor Maintenance' first aired on 15 March 2012 on the Discovery Channel in the United Kingdom.[35][36] The Seconds From Disaster episode "Terrified over Tokyo" featured the accident in December 2012.
  • Climber's High was released in 2008. This film is based on the novel by Hideo Yokoyama. The novel and film revolve around the reporting of the crash at the fictional Kita-Kanto Shimbun. Yokoyama was a journalist at the Jōmō Shimbun at the time of the crash.
  • In 2009, Shizumanu Taiyō, starring Ken Watanabe, was released to national distribution in Japan. The film, which does not mention JAL by name, instead using the name "National Airlines", gives a semi-fictional account of internal airline corporate disputes and politics surrounding the crash. JAL did not cooperate with the making of the film.[37] JAL criticized the film, saying that it, "not only damages public trust in the company but could lead to a loss of customers."[38]
  • The cockpit voice recording of the incident also became part of the script of a play called Charlie Victor Romeo.
  • On the 2004 release of the album Reise, Reise by German Neue Deutsche Härte band Rammstein, 35 seconds of the recording from Japan Airlines Flight 123's flight recorder, which have been edited and cut together from the original 56 second recording that is publicly available, can be heard by rewinding the CD to negative 38 seconds in the European release (hidden in the pregap) or by simply starting at the beginning of the North American release. The album art closely resembles markings on standard flight recorder boxes and is labeled "FLIGHT RECORDER - DO NOT OPEN" ("FLUGREKORDER - NICHT ÖFFNEN") in German. The third track on the album, Dalai Lama, is about a plane crash. It is worth noting that the current Dalai Lama is afraid of flying. This easter egg does not appear in the Japanese release of Reise, Reise. Also, a different album art was chosen for the release, that was later re-used for the album art of their next album Rosenrot. The album art of the Japan exclusive SHM-CD (Super High Material CD) release has not been changed.


See also[edit]

  • Flight with disabled controls
  • China Airlines Flight 611 involved a Boeing 747 aircraft that crashed in Taiwan Strait in 2002 on a flight from Taipei to Hong Kong, also because of faulty maintenance done on damage caused by a tailstrike accident long before the crash date, finally causing the aircraft's structure to fail and disintegrate in flight.
  • United Airlines Flight 232 was another case where all control surfaces failed. Dennis E. Fitch, a DC-10 instructor who had read about the JAL 123 crash and had practised flying with throttles alone in a simulator, used a steer-by-throttle technique to guide the United plane to an emergency landing at Sioux City, Iowa. Although a wing struck the ground at touchdown and the plane broke up and caught fire, 185 out of 296 passengers and crew survived.
  • DHL shootdown incident in Baghdad when an Airbus A300 was struck by missile causing a total loss of hydraulics. The crew managed to land the crippled aircraft safely using the throttles.
  • Turkish Airlines Flight 981 Explosive decompression causing hydraulic failure, killing all on board.
  • British European Airways Flight 706 Another crash caused by failure of the aft pressure bulkhead. The plane's horizontal stabilizer was blown off, resulting in a loss of pitch control. All 63 on board died.
  • American Airlines Flight 965 crashed into a mountain in Colombia with only 4 survivors out of the 163 people on board


  1. ^ a b "ASN Aircraft accident Boeing 747SR-46 JA8119 Ueno." Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved on June 15, 2009.
  2. ^ "100 worst aviation accidents". 
  3. ^ a b Aircraft Accident Investigation Commission. "2. Factual information." Aircraft Accident Investigation Report - Japan Air Lines flight 123 2.1.1 (1987): 6. Print.
  4. ^ "JAL123便墜落事故28年目の記録". Retrieved 2014-04-29. 
  5. ^ a b Magnuson, Ed. "Last Minutes of JAL 123." TIME. 1. Retrieved 25 October 2007.
  6. ^ "Pictures of the three pilots". Retrieved 2013-01-22. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Cineflix, Stone City Films (2006). Mayday: Out of Control (documentary TV series). 
  8. ^ a b http://www.mlit.go.jp/jtsb/eng-air_report/JA8119.pdf
  9. ^ a b c Hood, Dealing with Disaster in Japan, p. 45.
  10. ^ "524 killed in worst single air disaster." The Guardian.
  11. ^ Moosa, Eugene. "Jet Crash Kills Over 500 In Mountains of Japan." Associated Press at The Schenectady Gazette. Tuesday Morning August 13, 1985. First Edition. Volume 91 (XCI) No. 271. Front Page (p. 5?). Retrieved from Google News (1 of 2) on August 24, 2013. "JAL spokesman Geoffrey Tudor said two Americans were on the passenger list." and "JAL released a passenger list that included 21 non-Japanese names, and Tudor said there were two Americans, two Italians, one Briton, one West German, and four Chinese residents of Hong Kong"
  12. ^ "Aircraft Accident Investigation Report Japan Air Lines Co., Ltd. Boeing 747 SR-100, JA8119 Gunma Prefecture, Japan August 12, 1985." 22 (33/332). Retrieved on August 18, 2010.
  13. ^ Kawamura, Kazuo (河村 一男 Kawamura Kazuo)著、『日航機墜落』. ISBN 4872574486, 9784872574487. p. 169. See Google Books entry イースト・プレス:余裕の出たレンジャーは、他に生存者がいないかと、さらに周りを捜した。最後が中学少女であった。遺体を叩いて反応をみたりしているうちに、女性乗務員から沢寄り二メートルほどのところの遺体のあいだから、逆立ちをしているような格好で両足をばたつかせているのが見つかった。「僕、大丈夫か」と声をかけ、上にかぶさっている遺体や破片を取り除くと、中が空洞になっていて顔と左足が見えた。男の子とまちがえたようである。「痛いところはあるか」と聞くと、左足を開いてふくらはぎの傷をみせる仕草をした。右肘を挟まれており、すぐには引き出せなかった。: Rescues searched outskirts to find other survivors. They discovered a junior high student girl finally. When they were watching reactions of bodies by clapping them, they found moving legs as if doing a headstand. "Are you all right!" A rescue called out and removed bodies and wreckages covered it. Then he found a face and left leg. He took the person for a boy. "Do you have any other pain?" he asked. The girl moved her left leg and showed him a wound. Rescues could not relieve her immediately because her right elbow was sandwitched.
  14. ^ a b c d e Macarthur Job, Air Disaster Volume 2, Aerospace Publications, 1996, ISBN 1-875671-19-6: pp.136-153
  15. ^ "Survivor of JAL Crash Goes Home." Los Angeles Times. November 24, 1985. Retrieved on January 29, 2012.
  16. ^ Betti, Leeroy. "Looking up so tears won't fall." The Japan Times. Sunday November 26, 2000. Retrieved on December 3, 2009.
  17. ^ Magnuson, Ed. "Last Minutes of JAL 123." TIME. 2.
  18. ^ "Special Report: Japan Airlines Flight 123". AirDisaster.Com. 1985-08-12. Retrieved 2013-01-22. 
  19. ^ "The Internet Movie Database: Mayday - Out Of Control (Season 3, Episode 3)". The Internet Movie Database. 
  20. ^ Aircraft Accident Investigation Report - Japan Air Lines flight 123 2.1.1 (1987): 8. Print.
  21. ^ "Aircraft Accident Investigation Report Japan Air Lines Co., Ltd. Boeing 747 SR-100, JA8119 Gunma Prefecture, Japan August 12, 1985." 8 (19/332). Retrieved on August 18, 2010.
  22. ^ Smolowe, Jill, Jerry Hanafin, and Steven Holmes. "Disasters, Never a Year So Bad." TIME. Monday September 2, 1985. 3. Retrieved on June 15, 2009.
  23. ^ "Last Minutes of JAL 123", TIME, p.5 Retrieved 25 October 2007.
  24. ^ "Case Details > Crash of Japan Airlines B-747 at Mt. Osutaka". Sozogaku.com. Retrieved 2013-01-22. 
  25. ^ "Applying Lessons Learned from Accidents, Air Board findings", FAA. Retrieved 17 April 2014.
  26. ^ Andrew Horvat, "United's Welcome in Japan Less Than Warm", Los Angeles Times 28 February 1986
  27. ^ New York Times "J.A.L. Official Dies, Apparently a Suicide", 22 September 1985
  28. ^ Mainichi News http://mdn.mainichi.jp/mdnnews/news/20100812p2g00m0dm004000c.html[dead link]
  29. ^ Hollingworth, William (Kyodo News), "British academic to write account of 1985 JAL crash", Japan Times, 22 July 2007, p. 17.
  30. ^ Dealing with Disaster in Japan: Responses to the Flight JL123 Crash (Routledge Official Website). Accessed 9 October 2011.
  31. ^ "日航機事故28年、遺族ら灯籠流し 墜落現場の麓で". 共同通信. 11 August 2013. Retrieved 12 August 2013. 
  32. ^ "Why Japan Airlines Opened a Museum to Remember a Crash", Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2 March 2007.
  33. ^ Black Box as a Safety Device, New York Times. Retrieved 21 February 2009.
  34. ^ "Safety Promotion Center[dead link]." Japan Airlines. Retrieved on August 18, 2010.
  35. ^ Aircrash Confidential web page[dead link]
  36. ^ "Discovery Channel TV Listings for March 15, 2012". Discoveryuk.com. Retrieved 2013-01-22. 
  37. ^ Schilling, Mark, "Japanese films reach for sky, but it's a good bet JAL wishes this one had stayed grounded", Japan Times, October 23, 2009.
  38. ^ Jiji, "JAL hits film's disparaging parallels", Japan Times, November 4, 2009, p. 1.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]