Japan Airlines Flight 123
was a Japan Airlines domestic flight
International Airport (Haneda) to Osaka International Airport (Itami). The Boeing 747-SR46
that made this route, registered , suffered mechanical failures 12
minutes into flight and 32 minutes later crashed into two ridges of
Takamagahara in Ueno, Gunma
kilometer from Tokyo, on Monday 12 August
The crash site was on , near Mount Osutaka
. All 15 crew members and 505 out
of 509 passengers died, resulting in a total of 520 deaths and 4
It remains the deadliest
The aircraft involved, registration number JA8119, was a Boeing
747SR-46. Its first flight was on January 28, 1974. Before it was
destroyed it had 25,030 airframe hours and 18,835 cycles.
The flight was around the Obon
period in Japan, when many Japanese people every year make trips to
their hometowns or resorts. 21 non-Japanese boarded the flight. The
four survivors, all female, were seated towards the rear of the
plane: , an off-duty JAL flight
, age 25, who was jammed between a number of seats; ,
a 34-year-old woman and her 8-year-old daughter , who were trapped
in an intact section of the fuselage
; and a
12-year-old girl, , who was found wedged between branches in a
tree. Among the dead were the famous singer Kyu Sakamoto
and Japanese banker Akihisa
Yukawa, the father of solo violinist Diana
Sequence of events
The flight 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, as the
aircraft reached cruising altitude over Sagami Bay, the rear
pressure bulkhead failed.
The resulting explosive decompression
aircraft and severed all four of the aircraft's hydraulic systems
. A photograph taken
from the ground some time later confirmed that the vertical
stabilizer was missing. The loss of cabin pressure at high altitude
had also caused a lack of oxygen throughout the cabin, and
emergency oxygen masks for passengers soon began to fail. Flight
attendants, including one who was off-duty and flying as a
passenger, administered oxygen to various passengers using
The pilots, including Captain , first officer , and flight engineer
, set their transponder
broadcast a distress signal
Tokyo Area Control Center
which directed the aircraft to descend and gave it heading vectors
for an emergency landing
control problems required them to first request vectors back to
Haneda, then to Yokota (a U.S.
military air base), then back to Haneda again as the aircraft
By then all hydraulic fluid had drained away through the rupture.
With total loss of hydraulic control and non-functional
, the aircraft began to oscillate up and down
in a phugoid
cycle. The pilots managed a
measure of control by using engine thrust
They discovered that by giving full throttle they could cause the
plane to rise out of a nose-dive, and by reducing power the plane
would slow enough to lower the nose from uncontrolled ascent.
Similarly, they found that giving more power to the left or right
engines and reducing power to the opposite would cause the plane to
turn somewhat. These improvisations proved helpful, but further
measures to exert control, such as lowering the landing gear and
flaps, interfered with control by throttle, and the plane's
uncontrollability once again escalated.
After descending to 13,500 feet
), the pilots reported the aircraft's
uncontrollability. The plane flew over the Izu Peninsula, headed for the Pacific Ocean, then turned back
toward the shore and descended to below 7,000 feet (2100 m) before
the pilots managed to return to a climb.
reached an altitude of 13,000 feet (4000 m) before entering an
uncontrollable descent into the mountains and disappearing from
radar at 6:56 p.m. and 6,800 feet (2100 m). The final moments of
the plane occurred when it clipped one mountain ridge then hit a
second one during another rapid plunge, then flipped and landed on
Thirty-two minutes elapsed from the time of the bulkhead explosion
to the time of the final crash, long enough for some passengers to
write farewells to their families. Subsequent simulator
re-enactments of the mechanical failures suffered by Flight 123
failed to produce a better solution or outcome, and in fact none of
the four flight crews in the simulations were able to keep the
plane aloft for as long as the 32 minutes achieved by the actual
Delayed rescue operation
An American Air Force base in Japan 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 the crash in the mountains, a
U.S. Air Force
helicopter was the first
to spot the crash site 20 minutes after impact. The USAF crew
radioed Yokota Air Base to alert them, and had assembled rescue
teams in preparation to lower Marines down for rescues by
helicopter tow line. The offers by American forces of help to guide
Japanese forces immediately to the crash site and of rescue
assistance were rejected by Japanese officials. Instead, Japanese
government representatives ordered the U.S. crew to keep away from
the crash site and return to Yokota Air Base, stating the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF)
were going to handle the entire rescue alone.
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 of the JSDF
helicopter reported from the air that there were no signs of
survivors. Based on this report, JSDF ground personnel did not set
out to the actual 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 in other
preparations, all some 63 kilometers from the wreck. JSDF did not
set out for the actual crash site until the following morning.
Medical staff later found a number of passengers' bodies whose
injuries indicated that they had survived the crash only to die
from shock or exposure overnight in the mountains while awaiting
rescue. One doctor said "If the discovery had come ten hours
earlier, we could have found more survivors."
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
An animation of the aircraft's
The official cause of the crash according to the report published
by Japan's then Aircraft
Accidents Investigation Commission
is as follows:
- The aircraft was involved in a tailstrike incident at Osaka International
Airport on 2 June 1978, which damaged the aircraft's rear pressure bulkhead.
- The subsequent repair of the bulkhead did not conform to
Boeing's approved repair methods. Their procedure calls for one
continuous doubler plate with three rows of rivets to reinforce the damaged bulkhead, but the
Boeing technicians fixing the aircraft used two separate doubler
plates, one with two rows of rivets and one with only one row. This
reduced the part's resistance to metal
fatigue by 70%. According to the FAA, the
one "doubler plate" which was specified for the job (the FAA 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 take-offs between
the installation of the new plate and the final accident.
- When the bulkhead gave way, the resulting explosive decompression ruptured the
lines of all four hydraulic systems. With
the aircraft's control surfaces
disabled, the aircraft became uncontrollable.
The Japanese public's confidence in Japan
took a dramatic downturn in the wake of the disaster,
with passenger numbers on domestic routes dropping by one-third.
Rumours persisted that Boeing had admitted fault to cover up
shortcomings in the airline's inspection procedures and thus
protect 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
as a safer alternative.
Without admitting liability, JAL paid 780 million yen
(6.4 million Euros or ca. 12,600 Euros per
victim) to the victims' relatives in the form of "condolence
money". Its president, Yasumoto Takagi, resigned,
while a maintenance manager working for the company at Haneda committed suicide to
"apologize" for the accident.
also led to the 2006 opening of the Safety Promotion
Center near Haneda Airport, directed by Yutaka
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
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
Japan Airlines Flight 123 is featured in the Mayday
in the U.S. and Air Crash Investigation
other countries outside Canada) episode "Out of
The crash is also the subject of a BBC
television documentary (Disaster: JAL 123 – A Japanese
) first shown in 1999. The documentary highlights Japan's alleged
refusal for a US military helicopter to provide assistance two
hours after the crash and concludes by drawing parallels with
Japan's reluctance to accept foreign help in the wake of the
Earthquake in 1995.
To date three films have been made about Japan Airlines Flight 123.
, directed by , was released in 2005. The
central theme of this film is that the plane was shot down
following orders from Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone
. was released in 2008.
This film is based on the novel by Hideo
. The novel and film revolve around the reporting of
the crash at the fictional Kita-Kanto Shimbun. Yokoyama was a
journalist at the Jōmō
at the time of the crash.
In 2009, Shizumanu taiyô
, 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
The last 38 seconds of the cockpit voice recording
certain pressings of the album Reise,
The cockpit voice recording of the incident also became part of the
script of a play called Charlie
- " ASN Aircraft accident Boeing 747SR-46 JA8119
Ueno." Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved on June 15,
- " 524 killed in worst single air disaster."
- " Looking up so tears won't fall." The Japan
- Magnuson, Ed. "Last Minutes of JAL 123." TIME. 1. Retrieved 25 October 2007.
- Magnuson, Ed. "Last Minutes of JAL 123." TIME. 2.
- 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.
- "Fig_5. The Aspect of Aft Bulkhead Repair"
- "Applying Lessons Learned from Accidents, Air Board
findings", FAA. Retrieved 2 March 2007.
Job, Air Disaster Volume 2, Aerospace Publications,
1996, ISBN 1-875671-19-6: pp.136-153
- Andrew Horvat, "United's Welcome in Japan Less Than Warm",
Angeles Times 28 February 1986
- "Why Japan Airlines Opened a Museum to Remember a
Crash", Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2
- Black Box as a Safety Device,New York Times.
Retrieved 21 February 2009.
- Schilling, Mark, " Japanese films reach for sky, but it's a good bet JAL
wishes this one had stayed grounded", Japan Times, October 23,
- Jiji, "JAL hits film's disparaging parallels",
Times, November 4, 2009, p. 1.
- Video: Japanese Airlines Flight 123 Plane Crash part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5
- Learning from the Past Japan Airlines
- Reproduction animation of JAL123 (Japanese)
- Aircraft Accident Report (PDF, East Asian fonts)
- Crash of Japan Airlines B-747 at Mt. Osutaka
- Accident details at planecrashinfo.com
- Pre-crash photo of JA8119
- JAL123 CVR (cockpit voice recorder)
- An online
survey about JL123
- JAL123 CVR (cockpit voice recorder) audio of the
final moments of flight
- Charlie-Victor-Romeo (a play which features this aircraft
- Last Minutes of JAL 123 (TIME)
- The 20th Anniversary of Japan Air 123 (BBC)
record of JAL123 (Japanese with English place names)
- Planesafe.org: JAL123
- 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 -
- J.A.L.'S POST-CRASH TROUBLES