JAL displays messages by 1985 crash victims

by Miya Tanaka

Kyodo News

Japan Airlines Corp. is displaying messages at its Safety Promotion Center written by passengers and a cabin attendant before they died in the 1985 jumbo jet crash in Gunma Prefecture that claimed 520 lives.

The center opened April 24 in a building at Tokyo’s Haneda airport with 41 pieces of wreckage of the jet on display, including the collapsed pressure bulkhead believed to have caused the sudden decompression and loss of tail fin that led to the crash.

More items were put on display this week, including notes written by Mariko Shirai, a 26-year-old passenger who was a former JAL employee, and photos of messages by four other passengers written on items including notebooks and a paper sack.

The center’s display explanations are in both Japanese and English.

Shirai wrote on a small flight timetable, “I’m scared. I’m scared. I’m scared. Help. I feel sick. I don’t want to die,” along with names of family members.

Hirotsugu Kawaguchi, 52, wrote a seven-page message, apparently during the last 30 minutes of the flight, when the aircraft was uncontrollable, telling his children to “be good to each other” and help their mother.

“Dad is very sad but I’m sure I won’t make it . . . the plane is turning around and descending rapidly. I am grateful for the truly happy life I have enjoyed until now,” it said.

The family of Yumiko Tsushima, a 29-year-old flight attendant aboard JAL Flight 123, also allowed her notebook to be displayed.

Tsushima, in rough handwriting apparently different from that on other pages of her notebook, wrote down what she would say if the plane made an emergency landing, in Japanese and in English, such as “Stay calm” and “Lower yourself and cover your mouth and nose with towel.”

JAL had been displaying the bulkhead and several other items as a safety lesson for its employees, and was planning to discard other wreckage despite a request by an association of the crash victims’ families that the debris be preserved.

After a series of operational mishaps and other safety problems, JAL changed its plan and set up the safety promotion center — and made it open to the public.

“We hope our company employees, especially the younger generation, renew their resolve toward safety of flights by visiting the center,” said Teiji Murayama, JAL’s public relations director at Haneda airport.

He added that reaching out to the victims’ families to provide the messages was “a new step” in the company’s safety efforts.

One family member, while hoping the victims’ messages will convey how much sorrow accompanies an aviation accident, also expressed a sense of distrust in JAL’s stance toward enhancing safety awareness.

“Making the center is a positive move, but I think it’s too late. I’m also afraid of the company thinking that only making the center provides enough safety education,” said 45-year-old Mariko Kawaguchi, the daughter of the man whose seven-page message to his family is being displayed.

“The important thing is to have (safety awareness) penetrate the whole company,” she said.

“The center should be a symbol of companywide awareness and not a disguise for the company to show it is working for safety.”