British academic to write account of 1985 JAL crash

by William Hollingworth


A British academic is to write the first comprehensive account in English of Japan’s worst aviation accident, hoping to put a fresh perspective on a tragedy that has interested people for the last 22 years.

Christopher Hood is looking into all aspects of the crash of Japan Airlines flight 123, in which 520 passengers and crew members died, and will explore how the disaster reflects wider aspects of Japanese society.

The crash of JAL 123 remains the deadliest single aircraft disaster in history. The Boeing 747 crashed into a mountain in Gunma Prefecture on Aug. 12, 1985.

Part of the aircraft’s fuselage tore off during the flight, causing the tail to break off and a loss of hydraulic power. The pilots were unable to regain control of the aircraft as it oscillated up and down. After 32 minutes, the aircraft, which was traveling from Tokyo to Osaka, crashed into the mountain.

Hood, who is a lecturer in Japanese studies at Cardiff University in Wales, said he first became interested in writing the book after inviting the father of the sole British victim to speak to his students. He was moved by the father’s diary, which covered the tragedy.

He started searching on the Internet and found lots of videos relating to JAL 123. Hood was surprised to find that a lot of this interest came from non-Japanese citizens.

After looking for books on the subject and finding that nearly all of the information was in Japanese, Hood decided to publish a comprehensive account in English.

Hood is hoping to provide a fresh, non-Japanese perspective on the accident and the aftermath and to explore how the accident reflects aspects of Japanese society.

“A lot of people want to know more about the accident, particularly aviation enthusiasts, but unfortunately they don’t speak Japanese,” Hood said.

“It (JAL 123) is the Japanese version of the Titanic, with so many bizarre stories and question marks,” he said.

As part of his research, Hood interviewed JAL officials in Japan earlier this week and will meet relatives of the victims this weekend at the annual commemoration ceremony, which takes place in the mountainous area called Osutaka Ridge in Ueno, Gunma Prefecture.

As well as looking at the events of the evening of Aug. 12, 1985, and why the plane crashed, Hood will examine how the rescue operation was conducted compared with those for other disasters in Japan.