UENO, Gunma Pref. — Kin marked the 20th year Friday since 520 of their loved-ones died when a Japan Airlines jumbo jet crashed on a mountain in Gunma Prefecture — the worst single-air craft accident in aviation history.
Dozens of relatives of the victims climbed the steep slop in the rain to the crash site to clear the weeds around a memorial stone and place flowers before a monument located on Osutaka Ridge, where all but four people on board perished.
JAL President Toshiyuki Shinmachi also climbed the mountain — the first time in eight years that a JAL president has done so on the anniversary — to pay his respects and pledge greater safety efforts. JAL, however, has been beset with a spate of scares and safety blunders involving its aircraft this year.
“I pledged to the 520 souls that we will never bring about such a disaster,” Shinmachi said after visiting the crash site.
The mountain trail was originally 2.2 km long, but relatives were allowed to travel by bus on an access road for a weir construction project to a point about 800 meters from where the plane crashed.
In the evening, a memorial ceremony was scheduled to be held at Irei-no-sono (Memorial Garden) in the village of Ueno, Gunma Prefecture, at the foot of the mountain, with relatives, villagers and JAL officials attending.
On Aug. 12, 1985, JAL Flight 123 crashed after losing its tail fin on a flight from Tokyo to Osaka.
A government investigation commission concluded in a report issued in 1987 that the accident was caused by improper repairs conducted by Boeing Co. on the plane’s rear pressure bulkhead after the tail section had touched the runway during a previous takeoff. JAL failed to detect the fault in subsequent maintenance.
The U.S. manufacturer reached a compensation agreement with relatives of 54 victims in 1991.
Japanese prosecutors decided not to file criminal charges in 1990, when the five-year statute of limitations expired in the case.
A next of kin association has been calling for the carrier to preserve the wreckage of the plane, although JAL plans to discard it, except for the ruptured bulkhead believed to have been the direct cause of the accident, the cockpit voice recorder and the digital flight data recorder.
The association also submitted a written request Thursday to JAL, urging the carrier to build a facility to publicly display the wreckage.
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