Relatives Pay Tribute to the 520 Passengers Killed on JAL 123 32 Years Ago Today

Friends and families of the 1985 Japan Airlines flight 123 crash victims gathered and paid tribute to their loved ones Saturday morning, celebrating the 32nd anniversary of the tragedy.

Back on August 12th, 1985, Japan Airlines flight 123 was operating a scheduled flight between Tokyo and Osaka when the Boeing 747SR operating the route suffered an explosive decompression twelve minutes into the flight, and just over half an hour later slammed into two ridges of Mount Takamagahara in Ueno, Gunma Prefecture.

The explosive decompression that caused the crash was found to be caused by poor maintenance of the aircraft after it had a tailstrike incident seven years before. As the cabin was pressurized flight after flight, the improperly repaired bulkhead expanded until it eventually failed midflight on August 12th. The pilots immedietly lost all hydraulic controls and the entire tail section of the aircraft, and eventually crashed into Osutaka Ridge.

The incident killed 520 of the 524 passengers and crew onboard, making it the most deadly single-aircraft incident in history.

On Saturday, many of the relatives of the victims released lanterns into the sky after climbing the steep mountainside to the site of the crash. A memorial ceremony was held at 6:56 p.m. at the foot of the mountain, the exact time the aircraft crashed 32 years ago.

Relatives such as Mika Okuda, a 47-year-old Takarazuka resident, brought her three children to the grave of Yumiko Yoshida, a famous actress of the Takarazuka Revue, an all-female band. Yoshida was only 24 when she was killed in the crash.

The flightpath JAL 123 took on its ill-fated flight. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Some were experiencing the ritual for the first time, like Risako Uchino, a 57-year-old woman from Kawasaki who had avoided the crash site for almost three decades until she began coming in 2014. Her father, Shinjiro Minami, died in the crash.

There are hundreds of stories like these ones for everyone associated to the 520 victims, making this tragedy one of the most disturbing I, personally, have ever read about. Despite all the somber mourning surrounding the 32nd anniversary, it is hard to ignore all the good that has been learned since the incident.

Relatives and family members release lanterns on the 32nd anniversary of the crash. (Photo: japantimes.com)

As a result, in 2006 the “Safety Promotion Center” was opened at Haneda Airport in Tokyo. The facility was built for training purposes to warn and teach employees of the importance of airline safety and awareness. The building also features some pieces of the wreckage of JAL 123, and is open to the public to view.

Maintenance workers in Japan and across the world have since been given strict guidelines regarding the effort they put in to ensure the wellbeing of the passengers and the aircraft they work on. Despite new regulations being put in place, a strikingly similar accident occurred in 2002 that almost mirrored the disaster we saw on this fateful day in 1985.

Photo: japantoday.com

On May 25th, 2002, China Airlines “Dynasty” 611 was climbing out of Taipei Taoyuan International Airport in Taiwan going to Hong Kong, and the aircraft experienced an explosive decompression on climb out, causing the aircraft to break up midair. All 225 souls onboard were killed. The cause of the wreck was later found to be faulty maintenance work done on the aft bulkhead of the aircraft after experiencing a tailstrike months earlier, a near carbon copy of the disaster onboard JAL 123.

There is no way to be absolutely sure every aircraft is in perfect flying shape, but it is the jobs of the maintenance workers to take good care of the aircraft and keep them airworthy. Incidents like these are extremely rare, but when they do happen, it is catastrophic to say the least. When flying, it is imperative you trust the jobs the pilots, ground crew, and maintenance workers do every day to ensure your safety.

Featured photo from Wikimedia Commons