Japan Airlines Flight 123
JA8119, the aircraft involved, at Osaka International Airport in 1982
|Date||August 12, 1985|
|Summary||In-flight structural failure, explosive decompression, catastrophic hydraulic failure, maintenance errors|
Ueno, Gunma Prefecture, Japan
|Aircraft type||Boeing 747SR-46|
|Flight origin||Haneda Airport, Tokyo|
|Destination||Osaka Int'l Airport, Itami|
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 failures 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, resulting in a total of 520 deaths and 4 survivors.
It is the deadliest single-aircraft accident in history, the deadliest aviation accident to occur on Japanese soil, and the second-deadliest accidental plane crash, behind the Tenerife airport disaster. The fatalities added to August 1985 being commercial aviation's single deadliest month for passengers plus crew, part of the single deadliest such year, coming just ten days after the crash of Delta Air Lines Flight 191 killed 137 people and ten days before the crash of British Airtours Flight 28M killed a further 55 people.
Aircraft and crew
JA8119, the accident aircraft, was a Boeing 747SR-46. Its first flight was on January 28, 1974. Before the crash, it had 25,030 airframe hours and 18,835 cycles (one cycle equals one takeoff and landing). There were fifteen crew members, including three cockpit crew and 12 flight attendants (one male and eleven female). The cockpit crew consisted of 49-year-old Captain Masami Takahama (高浜 雅己 Takahama Masami?), 39-year-old First Officer Yutaka Sasaki (佐々木 祐 Sasaki Yutaka?), and 46-year-old Flight Engineer Hiroshi Fukuda (福田 博 Fukuda Hiroshi?). 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.
|Final tally of passenger nationalities|
The flight was around the Obon holiday period in Japan, when many Japanese people make yearly trips to their hometowns or resorts. Twenty-one non-Japanese boarded the flight. 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. The four survivors, all female, were seated on the left side and towards the middle of seat rows 54–60, in the rear of the aircraft.
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 wedged between branches in a tree. 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.
Sequence of events
Flight 123 took off from Runway 15L at Tokyo International Airport (commonly referred to as Haneda Airport) in Ōta, Tokyo, Japan, at 6:12 p.m., 12 minutes behind schedule. 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. 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.
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.
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 inability to control the aircraft escalated.
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. 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. Ed Magnuson of Time magazine said that the area where the aircraft crashed was referred to as the "Tibet" of Gunma Prefecture.
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. 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.
Delayed rescue operation
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 USMC 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 US offers of assistance in locating and recovering the crashed plane, an order arrived, saying that the US 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 the US forces permission to begin search and rescue missions.
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 ground personnel 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. One doctor said "If the discovery had come ten hours earlier, we could have found more survivors."
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.
The official cause of the crash according to the report published by Japan's Aircraft Accident Investigation Commission is as follows:
- 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.
- 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. The incorrect repair reduced the part's resistance to metal fatigue by 70%. 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". 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.
- 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
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. 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 New Years than the previous year. Some of them considered switching to All Nippon Airways as a safer alternative.
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 a maintenance manager working for the company at Haneda killed himself to apologize for the accident.
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.
Japan Air no longer uses flight number 123. After September 1, 1985, the flight was changed to flight 127 using a Boeing 777. Japan Air retired their last Boeing 747 on March 1, 2011, ending 41 years of service with the airline.
Families of the victims, together with local volunteer groups, hold an annual memorial gathering every August 12 near the crash site in Gunma Prefecture.
The crash also led to the 2006 opening of the Safety Promotion Center. It is located in the Daini Sogo Building on the grounds of Tokyo International Airport. 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
- 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. 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. JAL criticized the film, saying that it, "not only damages public trust in the company but could lead to a loss of customers."
- 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.
Diagram of the aft pressure bulkhead
- Flight with disabled controls
- China Airlines Flight 611 involved a China Airlines 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.
- "ASN Aircraft accident Boeing 747SR-46 JA8119 Ueno." Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved on June 15, 2009.
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- "Pictures of the three pilots". Retrieved 2013-01-22.
- Cineflix, Stone City Films (2006). Mayday: Out of Control (documentary TV series).
- "524 killed in worst single air disaster." The Guardian.
- 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"
- "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.
- Macarthur Job, Air Disaster Volume 2, Aerospace Publications, 1996, ISBN 1-875671-19-6: pp.136-153
- "Survivor of JAL Crash Goes Home." Los Angeles Times. November 24, 1985. Retrieved on January 29, 2012.
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- "Special Report: Japan Airlines Flight 123". AirDisaster.Com. 1985-08-12. Retrieved 2013-01-22.
- "The Internet Movie Database: Mayday - Out Of Control (Season 3, Episode 3)". The Internet Movie Database.
- "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.
- Smolowe, Jill, Jerry Hanafin, and Steven Holmes. "Disasters, Never a Year So Bad." TIME. Monday September 2, 1985. 3. Retrieved on June 15, 2009.
- "Last Minutes of JAL 123", TIME, p.5 Retrieved 25 October 2007.
- "Case Details > Crash of Japan Airlines B-747 at Mt. Osutaka". Sozogaku.com. Retrieved 2013-01-22.
- "Applying Lessons Learned from Accidents, Air Board findings", FAA. Retrieved 17 April 2014.
- Andrew Horvat, "United's Welcome in Japan Less Than Warm", Los Angeles Times 28 February 1986
- Mainichi News http://mdn.mainichi.jp/mdnnews/news/20100812p2g00m0dm004000c.html[dead link]
- Hollingworth, William (Kyodo News), "British academic to write account of 1985 JAL crash", Japan Times, 22 July 2007, p. 17.
- Dealing with Disaster in Japan: Responses to the Flight JL123 Crash (Routledge Official Website). Accessed 9 October 2011.
- "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.
- "Why Japan Airlines Opened a Museum to Remember a Crash", Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2 March 2007.
- Black Box as a Safety Device, New York Times. Retrieved 21 February 2009.
- "Safety Promotion Center[dead link]." Japan Airlines. Retrieved on August 18, 2010.
- Aircrash Confidential web page[dead link]
- "Discovery Channel TV Listings for March 15, 2012". Discoveryuk.com. Retrieved 2013-01-22.
- 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.
- Jiji, "JAL hits film's disparaging parallels", Japan Times, November 4, 2009, p. 1.
- Hood, Christopher P., Dealing with Disaster in Japan: Responses to the Flight JL123 Crash, (2011), Routledge, ISBN 978-0415456623 (hard back), ISBN 978-0415705998 (paper back). eBook also available.
- "Crash: Japanese took 12 hours to reach site." (Archive) Pacific Stars and Stripes. Sunday August 27, 1995. p. 6.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Japan Airlines Flight 123.|
- Aircraft Accident Report, English translation - Aircraft Accident Investigation Commission (East Asian fonts may need to be installed)
- (Japanese) Aircraft Accident Report - Aircraft Accident Investigation Commission
- Learning from the Past Japan Airlines
- Details of the book Dealing with Disaster in Japan: Responses to the Flight JL123 Crash
- Crash of Japan Airlines B-747 at Mt. Osutaka
- JAL123 CVR (cockpit voice recorder) transcript
- Christopher Hood's Research about JL123
- JAL123 CVR (cockpit voice recorder) audio of the final moments of flight
- Charlie-Victor-Romeo – a play which features this aircraft accident
- Last Minutes of JAL 123 (TIME)
- The 20th Anniversary of Japan Air 123 (BBC)
- The record of JAL123 (Japanese with English place names)[dead link]
- Japan Airlines Flight 123 Accident (12 Aug 1985) - Cockpit Voice Recorder [English Subbed] on YouTube
- CVR (cockpit voice recorder) audio of the final moments of flight on YouTube
- Planesafe.org: JAL123[dead link]
- Narratives on the World's Worst Plane Crash: Flight JL123 in Print and on Screen (by Hood, C.P. (2009), Research Seminar Paper, Ref No.7, Cardiff Crimes Narrative Network, Cardiff University - http://www.cf.ac.uk/chri/research/cnic/)
- The New York Times: J.A.L.'s Post-Crash Troubles