Japan Airlines Flight 123
JA8119, the aircraft involved in the accident at Osaka International Airport in 1984
|Date||August 12, 1985|
|Summary||In-flight structural failure due to improper repair, leading to rapid decompression and loss of control|
|Site||Mount Takamagahara, Japan |
|Aircraft type||Boeing 747SR-146|
|IATA flight No.||JL123|
|ICAO flight No.||JAL123|
|Call sign||JAPAN AIR 123|
|Flight origin||Tokyo International Airport（HND）|
|Destination||Osaka International Airport（ITM）|
Japan Airlines Flight 123 was a scheduled domestic Japan Airlines passenger flight from Tokyo's Haneda Airport to Osaka International Airport, Japan. On August 12, 1985, a Boeing 747SR operating this route suffered a sudden decompression twelve minutes into the flight and crashed in the area of Mount Takamagahara, Ueno, Gunma Prefecture, 100 kilometres (62 miles) from Tokyo thirty-two minutes later. The crash site was on Osutaka Ridge, near Mount Osutaka.
Japan's Aircraft Accident Investigation Commission officially concluded that the rapid decompression was caused by a faulty repair by Boeing technicians after a tailstrike incident during a landing at Osaka Airport seven years earlier (1978). A doubler plate on the rear bulkhead of the plane had been 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 rapid decompression that ripped off a large portion of the tail and caused the loss of hydraulic controls to the entire plane.
The aircraft, configured with increased economy class seating, was carrying 524 people. Casualties of the crash included all 15 crew members and 505 of the 509 passengers. Some passengers survived the initial crash but subsequently died of their injuries hours later, mostly due to the Japan Self-Defense Forces' decision to wait until the next day to go to the crash site, after declining an offer from a nearby United States Air Force base to start an immediate rescue operation. It remains the deadliest single-aircraft accident in aviation history.
Aircraft and crew
The accident aircraft was registered JA8119 and was a Boeing 747-146SR (Short Range). Its first flight was on January 28, 1974. It had more than 25,000 airframe hours and more than 18,800 cycles (one cycle equals one takeoff and landing).
At the time of the accident the aircraft was on the fifth of its six planned flights of the day. There were fifteen crew members, including three cockpit crew and 12 flight attendants.
The cockpit crew consisted of the following:
- Captain Masami Takahama (高浜 雅己 Takahama Masami) from Akita, Japan, served as a training instructor for First Officer Yutaka Sasaki on the flight, supervising him while handling the radio communications. A veteran pilot, having logged approximately 12,400 total flight hours, roughly 4,850 of which were accumulated flying 747s, Masami Takahama was aged 49 at the time of the accident.
- First Officer Yutaka Sasaki (佐々木 祐 Sasaki Yutaka) from Kobe was in line for promotion to the rank of Captain and flew Flight 123 as one of his training flights. Sasaki, who was 39 years old at the time of the incident, had approximately 4,000 total flight hours to his credit and he had logged roughly 2,650 hours in the 747.
- Flight Engineer Hiroshi Fukuda (福田 博 Fukuda Hiroshi) from Kyoto, the 46-year-old veteran flight engineer of the flight who had approximately 9,800 total flight hours, of which roughly 3,850 were accrued flying 747s.
The flight was around the Obon holiday period in Japan, when many Japanese people make yearly trips to their home towns or resorts. Around twenty-one non-Japanese boarded the flight. By August 13, 1985, Geoffrey Tudor, a spokesman for Japan Airlines, stated that the list included four residents of Hong Kong, two each from Italy and the United States, and one each from West Germany and the United Kingdom. Some foreigners had dual nationalities, and some of them were residents of Japan.
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. The four survivors were:
- Yumi Ochiai (落合 由美 Ochiai Yumi), a 26-year-old off-duty JAL flight attendant who was jammed between seats;
- Hiroko Yoshizaki (吉崎 博子 Yoshizaki Hiroko), a 34-year-old woman;
- Mikiko Yoshizaki (吉崎 美紀子 Yoshizaki Mikiko), Hiroko's 8-year-old daughter—Hiroko and Mikiko were both trapped in an intact section of the fuselage; and
- Keiko Kawakami (川上 慶子 Kawakami Keiko), a 12-year-old girl who was rescued from under the wreckage. Air Disaster Volume 2 stated that she was 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 the hospital. She was treated at the Matsue Red Cross Hospital in Matsue, Shimane Prefecture before her release on Friday, November 22, 1985.
Sequence of events
This section needs expansion with: the CVR transcript (at least the important portions of it), and the events that occurred in the passenger cabin. You can help by adding to it. (January 2019)
The aircraft landed at Haneda from New Chitose Airport at 4:50PM as JL514. After more than an hour on the ramp, Flight 123 pushed back from gate 18 at 6:04 p.m. and took off from Runway 15L at Haneda Airport in Ōta, Tokyo, Japan, at 6:12 p.m., twelve minutes behind schedule. About 12 minutes after takeoff, at near cruising altitude over Sagami Bay, the aircraft's aft pressure bulkhead burst open due to a pre-existing defect stemming from a panel that had been incorrectly repaired after a tailstrike accident 7 years earlier. This caused a rapid decompression:72of the aircraft, bringing down the ceiling around the rear lavatories, damaging the unpressurized fuselage aft of the bulkhead, unseating the vertical stabilizer, and severing all four hydraulic lines. A photograph taken from the ground confirmed that the vertical stabilizer was missing.
The pilots set their transponder to broadcast a distress signal. Afterwards, Captain Takahama contacted Tokyo Area Control Center to declare an emergency, and to request to return to Haneda Airport, descending and following emergency landing vectors to Oshima. Tokyo Control approved a right-hand turn to a heading of 90° east back towards Oshima, however the plane did not follow the directions and continued to fly a westerly course. It was at this point that the pilots became aware that the aircraft had become uncontrollable, and the Flight Engineer reported that the hydraulic pressure was dropping. Seeing that the aircraft was still flying west away from Haneda, Tokyo Control contacted the aircraft again. After confirming that the pilots were declaring an emergency, the controller requested as to the nature of the emergency, which the pilots did not respond to. Only after Tokyo Control repeated the direction to descend and turn to a 90° heading to Oshima did the Captain report that the aircraft had become uncontrollable. Heading over the Izu Peninsula, the pilots managed to turn towards the Pacific Ocean, then back towards the shore; Captain Takahama declined Tokyo Control's suggestion to divert to Nagoya Airport 72 miles away, instead preferring to land at Haneda.
Hydraulic fluid completely drained away through the rupture. With total loss of hydraulic control and non-functional control surfaces, the aircraft began up and down oscillations in phugoid cycles lasting about 90 seconds each. The lack of stabilizing influence from the vertical stabilizer and the rudder removed the only means to dampen yaw. Consequently, the aircraft also began to exhibit Dutch roll, simultaneously yawing right and banking right, before yawing back left and banking left, with the banks in large arcs of approximately 50° back and forth in cycles of 12 seconds. In response, the pilots exerted efforts to establish stability using differential engine thrust, and they managed to slowly turn the plane back towards Haneda. The plane rose and fell in an altitude range of 20,000 - 24,000 feet for 15 minutes, with the pilots seemingly unable to figure out how to descend without flight controls. This is possibly due to the effects of hypoxia at such altitudes, as the pilots seemed to have difficulty comprehending their situation as the plane pitched and rolled uncontrollably. The Flight Engineer did voice that they should put on their own oxygen masks when word reached the cockpit that the rear-most passenger masks had stopped working. However, the fact that their voices can be heard relatively clearly on the cockpit area microphone, for the entire duration up until the crash, means that they likely did not do so at any point in the flight.
Shortly after 6:40 PM, the landing gear was lowered in an attempt to dampen the phugoid cycles and Dutch rolls. This was somewhat successful, as the phugoid cycles were dampened. However, lowering the gear also interfered with control by throttle, and the aircrew's ability to control the aircraft deteriorated. Shortly after lowering the gear, the plane began a right-hand descending turn from 22,400 feet to 17,000 feet, then continued north while still descending. Upon descending to 13,500 feet (4100 m) at 6:45 PM, the pilots again reported an uncontrollable aircraft. Moments later, the aircraft began to turn to the left, despite efforts by the crew to get the plane to continue to turn right and avoid the mountains.
As the aircraft continued west, they descended below 7,000 feet (2100 m), then entered a rapid climb and briefly stalled the plane at 8,000 feet, before returning to an unsteady climb. Possibly as a measure to prevent a recurrence of stalling, due to the lowered air speed caused by the drag of the undercarriage, the crew quickly discussed lowering the flaps. Without hydraulics, the Captain expressed that this wouldn't work, but the Flight Engineer pointed out this could be done via an alternate electrical system. At 6:51 PM, the Captain lowered the flaps 5 units as an additional attempt to exert control over the stricken jet. The aircraft reached 13,000 feet (4000 m) at 6:53 PM, at which point the pilots reported an uncontrollable plane for the third time. At approximately 6:54 PM, the crew lowered flaps to 10 units, but this began to cause the plane to bank increasingly to the right. One minute later, the flaps were extended to 25 units, which caused the aircraft to bank further to the right beyond 60°, and the nose began to drop. Captain Takahama immediately ordered the flaps to be retracted, and was heard on the cockpit voice recorder desperately requesting for more power to be applied in a last-ditch effort to raise the nose. However the plane continued to enter an uncontrollable right-hand 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 failure to the crash was 32 minutes.:123,127
Delayed rescue operation
United States Air Force air traffic controllers at Yokota Air Base, situated near the flight path of JAL 123, had been monitoring the aircraft's distress calls and maintained contact with Japanese air traffic control throughout. They made the Yokota runway available to JAL 123, as did the US Atsugi Naval Base after being alerted to the situation. After losing radar contact, a U.S. Air Force C-130 from the 345th TAS was tasked 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 radioed the location to the Japanese and Yokota Air Base and directed an Iroquois helicopter from Yokota to the crash site. Rescue teams were assembled, prepared to lower Marines from helicopters. However, American offers of assistance in mounting a search and rescue mission were declined by the Japanese government who determined that the mission would be undertaken by the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) and that outside help was not necessary. It remains unclear why the offers were declined.
A JSFD helicopter later spotted the wreck but after nightfall. 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 on 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, 63 kilometres (39 mi) from the crash site. Rescue teams did not set out for the site until the following morning. Medical staff later found bodies with injuries suggesting that individuals 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 115, which damaged the aircraft's rear pressure bulkhead.
- The subsequent repair of the bulkhead did not conform to Boeing's approved repair methods. For reinforcing a damaged bulkhead, Boeing's repair procedure calls for one continuous splice plate with three rows of rivets. However, the Boeing technicians carrying out the repair had used two splice plates parallel to the stress crack. Cutting the plate in this manner negated the effectiveness of one of the rows of rivets, reducing the part's resistance to fatigue cracking to about 70% of that for a correct repair. During the investigation, the Accident Investigation Commission calculated that this incorrect installation would fail after approximately 10,000 pressurization cycles; the aircraft accomplished 12,318 successful flights from the time that the faulty repair was made to when the crash happened.:101–105
- Consequently, after repeated pressurization cycles during normal flight, the bulkhead gradually started to crack near one of the two rows of rivets holding it together. When it finally failed, the resulting rapid decompression ruptured the lines of all four hydraulic systems and ejected the vertical stabilizer. With many of the aircraft's flight controls disabled, the aircraft became uncontrollable.:128
Aftermath and legacy
The Japanese public's confidence in Japan Air Lines 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 the New Year period than the previous year. Some of them considered switching to All Nippon Airways as a safer alternative.
JAL paid ¥780 million (US$7.6 million) to the victims' relatives in the form of "condolence money" without admitting liability. JAL president, Yasumoto Takagi (高木 養根), resigned. In the aftermath of the incident, Hiroo Tominaga, a JAL maintenance manager, killed himself to atone for the incident, while Susumu Tajima, an engineer who had inspected and cleared the aircraft as flightworthy, committed suicide due to difficulties at work.
In compliance with standard procedures, Japan Air Lines dropped the flight number 123 for their Haneda-Itami routes, changing it to Flight 121 and Flight 127 on September 1, 1985. While Boeing 747s were still used on the same route operating with the new flight numbers in the years following the crash, they were replaced by the Boeing 767 or Boeing 777 in the mid-1990s. The 747s continued serving JAL until their 2011 retirement. March 2 of the same year saw the retirement of the airline's final two 747s, which were -400 series.
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. 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 led to the 2006 opening of the Safety Promotion Center, which is located in the Daini Sogo Building in the grounds of Haneda Airport. This center was created for training purposes to alert employees to the importance of airline safety and their personal responsibility to ensure safety. The center has displays regarding aviation safety, the history of the crash, and selected pieces of the aircraft and passenger effects (including handwritten farewell notes). It is open to the public by appointment made two months prior to the visit.
The captain's daughter, Yoko Takahama, who was a high school student at the time of the crash, went on to become a flight attendant for Japan Air Lines.
Japanese banker Akihisa Yukawa had an undisclosed second family at the time he died in the crash. (His wife had earlier suffered severe brain injuries.) His partner, pregnant with their second child, returned with her family to London, where she and Yukawa had met. To avoid embarrassment to Yukawa's family she accepted a settlement of £340,000 rather than claiming under the airline's compensation scheme. In 2002 the airline made an undisclosed payment enabling the two children, Cassie and Diana, to complete their education.
In popular culture
- The events of Flight 123 were featured in "Out of Control," a Season 3 (2005) episode of the Canadian TV series Mayday, which is entitled Air Emergency and Air Disasters in the U.S., and Air Crash Investigation in the UK and elsewhere around the world. The dramatization was broadcast with the title "Osutaka-no-One (御巣鷹の尾根)" in Japan. The flight was also included in a Mayday Season 6 (2007) Science of Disaster special, entitled "Fatal Flaw," which was broadcast with the title "Fatal Fix" in the United Kingdom, Australia and Asia.
- The documentary series Aircrash Confidential featured the crash in a second-season episode titled "Poor Maintenance," which first aired on March 15, 2012, on the Discovery Channel in the United Kingdom.
- The National Geographic Channel's documentary series Seconds From Disaster featured the accident in an episode titled "Terrified over Tokyo," released in December 2012.
- Climber's High, the best-selling novel by Hideo Yokoyama, revolves around the reporting of the crash at the fictional newspaper Kita-Kanto Shimbun. Yokoyama was a journalist at the Jōmō Shimbun at the time of the crash. A film released in 2008, and also titled Climber's High, is based on the novel.
- In 2009, the film Shizumanu Taiyō, starring Ken Watanabe, was released for national distribution in Japan. The film gives a semi-fictional account of the internal airline corporate disputes and politics surrounding the crash. However, the film does not mention Japanese Air Lines by name, using the name "National Airlines" instead. JAL not only refused to co-operate with the making of the film but also bitterly criticized the film, saying that it "not only damages public trust in the company but could lead to a loss of customers." Coincidentally, the movie features music by Diana Yukawa, whose father was one of the victims of this disaster.
- The cockpit voice recording (CVR) of the incident was incorporated into the script of a 1999 play called Charlie Victor Romeo.
- The 2004 album Reise, Reise by German Neue Deutsche Härte band Rammstein is loosely inspired by the crash. The final moments of the cockpit voice recording is hidden in the pregap of the first track on some CD pressings of the album.
- 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.
- China Airlines Flight 611 – 2002
- British European Airways Flight 706 – 1971
- List of aircraft accidents and incidents resulting in at least 50 fatalities
Similar accidents involving loss of flight controls:
- United Airlines Flight 232 – caused by a catastrophic engine failure, 1989
- Baghdad DHL attempted shootdown incident – caused by a surface-to-air missile striking the left wing, 2003
- Japan Airlines Flight 115 tailstrike that caused the crash 7 years earlier
- "ASN Aircraft accident Boeing 747SR-46 JA8119 Ueno." Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved June 15, 2009.
- "AIRCRAFT ACCIDENT INVESTIGATION REPORT Japan Air Lines Co., Ltd. Boeing 747 SR-100, JA8119 Gunma Prefecture, Japan August 12, 1985" (PDF). Aircraft Accident Investigation Commission. June 19, 1987. Retrieved April 21, 2019.
- Times, Clyde Haberman, Special To The New York (August 20, 1985). "PLANE'S FINAL MINUTES: 'RAISE THE NOSE'". The New York Times. Retrieved June 2, 2017.
- Magnuson, Ed. "Last Minutes of JAL 123." TIME. 9171,1074738-1,00.html 1[permanent dead link]. Retrieved October 25, 2007.
- "Pictures of the three pilots". Retrieved January 22, 2013.
- Haberman, Clyde (August 13, 1985). "Jetliner Crashes with 524 Aboard in Central Japan". The New York Times. Retrieved June 2, 2017.
- "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"
- 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。: Rescuers searched the outskirts to find other survivors. They finally discovered a junior high school girl. As they were checking the reactions of bodies by slapping them, they found legs moving as if doing a headstand. "Are you all right?" a rescuer called out and removed bodies and wreckage covering it. Then he found a face and left leg. He took the person to be a girl. "Do you have any other pain?" he asked. The girl moved her left leg and showed him a wound. Rescuers could not relieve her immediately because her right elbow was sandwiched.
- Macarthur Job, Air Disaster Volume 2, Aerospace Publications, 1996, ISBN 1-875671-19-6: pp.136–153
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- Andrew Horvat, "United's Welcome in Japan Less Than Warm", Los Angeles Times February 28, 1986
- New York Times "J.A.L. Official Dies, Apparently a Suicide", September 22, 1985
- The Associated Press "ENGINEER WHO INSPECTED PLANE BEFORE CRASH COMMITS SUICIDE", March 18, 1987
- Mainichi News "Archived copy". Archived from the original on July 10, 2012. Retrieved August 12, 2010.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
- 日航機事故28年、遺族ら灯籠流し 墜落現場の麓で [Japan Air Lines accident 28 years, bereaved family lanterns sink at the fall site]. 共同通信 (in Japanese). August 11, 2013. Retrieved August 12, 2013.
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- Ward, David (March 8, 2002). "Air crash payout after 17 years". Retrieved April 29, 2019 – via www.theguardian.com.
- "Out of Control". Mayday. Season 3. Episode 3. 2005. Discovery Channel Canada / National Geographic Channel.
- "Fatal Flaw". Mayday. Season 6. Episode 2. 2007. Discovery Channel Canada / National Geographic Channel.
- Aircrash Confidential web page Archived November 20, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
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- Daly, Joe (May 1, 2019). "Rammstein - The Ultimate Celebration - Bang Bangers!". Metal Hammer UK. p. 55.
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- Aircraft Accident Report, English translation – Aircraft Accident Investigation Commission (East Asian fonts may need to be installed)
- ‹See Tfd›(in Japanese) Aircraft Accident Report – Aircraft Accident Investigation Commission
- Learning from the Past Japan Air Lines
- Crash of Japan Air Lines B-747 at Mt. Osutaka
- JAL123 CVR (cockpit voice recorder) transcript
- JAL123 CVR (cockpit voice recorder) audio of the final moments of flight
- The record of JAL123 (Japanese with English place names)
- on YouTube
- on YouTube
- on YouTube
- on YouTube
- on YouTube
- Planesafe.org: JAL123
- The New York Times: J.A.L.'s Post-Crash Troubles