Japan Airlines Flight 123

Japan Airlines Flight 123

JA8119 on the runway at Osaka International Airport circa 1984
Accident summary
Date 12 August 1985
Type In-flight structural failure, explosive decompression, catastrophic hydraulic failure, maintenance errors
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
Fatalities 520
Survivors 4
Aircraft type Boeing 747-146SR
Operator Japan Airlines
Tail number JA8119
Flight origin Tokyo International Airport (Haneda)
Destination Osaka International Airport (Itami)
JAL123 crash spot Red X.svg crash spot
Blue pog.svg Tokyo International Airport Green pog.svg Osaka International Airport

Japan Airlines Flight 123 was a Japan Airlines domestic flight from Tokyo International Airport (Haneda) to Osaka International Airport (Itami) on August 12, 1985. The Boeing 747-146SR that made this route, registered JA8119, suffered mechanical failures 12 minutes into the flight and 32 minutes later crashed into two ridges of Mount Takamagahara in Ueno, Gunma Prefecture, 100 kilometers (62 mi) 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 out of 509 passengers died, resulting in a total of 520 deaths and four survivors.

It is currently the deadliest single-aircraft accident in history, and the second deadliest plane crash in history behind the Tenerife airport disaster.[1]



The aircraft involved, registration number JA8119, was a Boeing 747-100SR. Its first flight was on January 28, 1974. Before it was destroyed, it had 25,030 airframe hours and 18,835 cycles (one cycle equals one takeoff and landing).[2]


The flight was around the Obon holiday period in Japan, when many Japanese people make yearly trips to their hometowns or resorts.[3] Twenty-one non-Japanese boarded the flight.[4] 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.[5] The survivors were Yumi Ochiai (落合 由美 Ochiai Yumi?), an off-duty JAL flight attendant, age 25, who was jammed between a number of 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; and a 12-year-old girl, Keiko Kawakami (川上 慶子 Kawakami Keiko?), who was found wedged between branches in a tree.[6] Among the dead were the famous singer Kyu Sakamoto (of Sukiyaki fame) and Japanese banker Akihisa Yukawa, the father of solo violinist Diana Yukawa.[7]

Sequence of events

The flight took off from Runway 16L[8] at Tokyo International Airport (commonly referred to as Haneda Airport) in Ōta, Tokyo, Japan at 6:12 p.m., 12 minutes behind schedule.[9] About 12 minutes after takeoff, as the aircraft reached cruising altitude over Sagami Bay, the rear pressure bulkhead was torn open. The resulting explosive decompression tore the tailfin from the 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.[10] 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 fall. Flight attendants, including one who was off-duty and flying as a passenger, administered oxygen to various passengers using hand-held tanks.[3]

Illustration of JA8119, during breakup of the vertical stabilizer

The pilots, including Captain Masami Takahama (高浜 雅己 Takahama Masami?),[8][11] first officer Yutaka Sasaki (佐々木 祐 Sasaki Yutaka?), and flight engineer Hiroshi Fukuda (福田 博 Fukuda Hiroshi?),[3] set their transponder to broadcast a distress signal to Tokyo Area Control Center, which directed the aircraft to descend and gave it heading vectors for an emergency landing. Continued 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 wandered uncontrollably.[citation needed]

By then all hydraulic fluid had drained away through the rupture. With total loss of hydraulic control and non-functional control surfaces, the aircraft began to oscillate up and down in a phugoid cycle. The pilots managed a measure of control by using differential engine thrust. 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.[citation needed]

After descending to 13,500 feet (4100 m), the pilots reported the aircraft's uncontrollability. The plane flew over the Izu Peninsula, headed for the Pacific Ocean, then turned back towards the shore and descended to below 7,000 feet (2100 m) before the pilots managed to return to a climb. The aircraft 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 crashed into a second one during another rapid plunge, then flipped and landed on its back.[citation needed] 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.[12] Ed Magnuson of Time magazine said that the area where the aircraft crashed was referred to as the "Tibet" of Gunma Prefecture.[8]

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.[3][13] 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 crew.[3]

Delayed rescue operation

Japan Airlines 123 - sitting plan-2.svg

United States Air Force controllers at Yokota Air Force 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 radioed Yokota Air Base to alert them and directed a USAF Huey helicopter from Yokota to the crash site. Rescue teams were assembled 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.[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 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.[6] One doctor said "If the discovery had come ten hours earlier, we could have found more survivors." [14]

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.[6]


An animation of the aircraft's tailstrike incident

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

  1. The aircraft was involved in a tailstrike incident at Osaka International Airport on 2 June 1978, 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 while their procedure calls for one continuous doubler plate with three rows of rivets to reinforce the damaged bulkhead.[15] This 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".[16] 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.
  3. When the bulkhead gave way, the resulting explosive decompression ruptured the lines of all four hydraulic systems and blew off the vertical stabilizer. With the aircraft's flight controls disabled, the aircraft became uncontrollable.


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.[6] 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.[17]

Without admitting liability, JAL paid ¥780 million 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.[6]

In the summer of 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.[18]

Beginning in 2007, British academic Christopher Hood began writing a book on the crash and its effect on Japanese society.[19] The book, entitled Dealing with Disaster in Japan: Responses to the Flight JL123 Crash, was published by Routledge in September 2011.[20]


The crash also led to the 2006 opening of the Safety Promotion Center.[21][22] It is located in the Daini Sogo Building on the grounds of Tokyo International Airport.[23] 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.


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 "御巣鷹の尾根 (Osutaka-no-One?)")".

The crash is also the subject of a BBC television documentary (Disaster: JAL 123 – A Japanese Tragedy) 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 Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995.

To date three films have been made about Japan Airlines Flight 123. Osutakayama, directed by Fumiki Watanabe (渡辺文樹 Watanabe Fumiki?), was released in 2005. The central theme of this film is that the plane was shot down following orders from Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone. Climber's High (クライマーズ・ハイ 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.[24] JAL criticized the film, saying that it, "not only damages public trust in the company but could lead to a loss of customers."[25]

The last 38 seconds of the cockpit voice recording appeared on certain pressings of the album Reise, Reise by Rammstein. The final 2 minutes of the recording, with English subtitles, are also available on YouTube.

The cockpit voice recording of the incident also became part of the script of a play called Charlie Victor Romeo.

The crash of Flight 123 is thought to be an inspiration for the visual novel Remember11, which begins with the crash of a passenger plane on an Aomori mountain, killing all but four survivors.

See also

Portal icon Japan portal
Portal icon Aviation portal
Portal icon Disasters portal
  • List of accidents and incidents on commercial airliners
  • 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 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 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.
  • Air India Flight 182 another 747 crash in 1985.


  1. ^ http://planecrashinfo.com/worst100.htm
  2. ^ "ASN Aircraft accident Boeing 747SR-46 JA8119 Ueno." Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved on June 15, 2009.
  3. ^ a b c d e Cineflix, Stone City Films (2006). Mayday: Out of Control (documentary TV series). 
  4. ^ "524 killed in worst single air disaster." The Guardian.
  5. ^ "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.
  6. ^ a b c d e Macarthur Job, Air Disaster Volume 2, Aerospace Publications, 1996, ISBN 1-875671-19-6: pp.136-153
  7. ^ Betti, Leeroy. "Looking up so tears won't fall." The Japan Times. Sunday November 26, 2000. Retrieved on December 3, 2009.
  8. ^ a b c Magnuson, Ed. "Last Minutes of JAL 123." TIME. 1. Retrieved 25 October 2007.
  9. ^ Magnuson, Ed. "Last Minutes of JAL 123." TIME. 2.
  10. ^ http://www.airdisaster.com/special/special-jal123.shtml
  11. ^ nexx.jp
  12. ^ "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.
  13. ^ Smolowe, Jill, Jerry Hanafin, and Steven Holmes. "Disasters, Never a Year So Bad." TIME. Monday September 2, 1985. 3. Retrieved on June 15, 2009.
  14. ^ "Last Minutes of JAL 123", TIME, p.5 Retrieved 25 October 2007.
  15. ^ "Fig_5. The Aspect of Aft Bulkhead Repair"
  16. ^ "Applying Lessons Learned from Accidents, Air Board findings", FAA. Retrieved 2 March 2007.
  17. ^ Andrew Horvat, "United's Welcome in Japan Less Than Warm", Los Angeles Times 28 February 1986
  18. ^ Mainichi News http://mdn.mainichi.jp/mdnnews/news/20100812p2g00m0dm004000c.html
  19. ^ Hollingworth, William (Kyodo News), "British academic to write account of 1985 JAL crash", Japan Times, 22 July 2007, p. 17.
  20. ^ Dealing with Disaster in Japan: Responses to the Flight JL123 Crash (Routledge Official Website). Accessed 9 October 2011.
  21. ^ "Why Japan Airlines Opened a Museum to Remember a Crash", Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2 March 2007.
  22. ^ Black Box as a Safety Device, New York Times. Retrieved 21 February 2009.
  23. ^ "Safety Promotion Center." Japan Airlines. Retrieved on August 18, 2010.
  24. ^ 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.
  25. ^ 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, 978-0415456623

External links

External images
Pre-crash photo of JA8119 at Airliners.net

Accident investigation report

Japan Airlines

Other links

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