• Kyodo


Relatives floated paper lanterns on a river near the site of a 1985 Japan Airlines jet crash and prayed for loved ones and transport safety on Tuesday, the eve of the 30th anniversary of the world’s deadliest single-aircraft accident.

On Aug. 12, 1985, JAL Flight 123, a Boeing 747 bound for Osaka, crashed into a mountain in Gunma Prefecture about 40 minutes after taking off from Tokyo’s Haneda airport, killing all but four of the 524 passengers and crew aboard.

As a choir group sang to accordion accompaniment during the evening ceremony, the relatives quietly placed roughly 300 paper lanterns on the Kanna River in the village of Ueno running at the foot of the crash site.

The lanterns bore messages such as “Wishing for transport safety” and “Will not forget the accident.”

Kuniko Miyajima, a 68-year-old leader of a group of relatives who lost her 9-year-old son in the accident, said the annual event is meant to ensure that the tragedy is not forgotten.

“Even though people say there has not been a fatal accident caused by a Japanese airline since the 1985 JAL accident, that does not mean it will not happen,” Miyajima said.

“I want to continue to help the relatives so they can pass on the importance of transport safety to the next generation so such an accident will never happen again,” she said.

Among the other relatives of the crash victims was Shingo Tabuchi, 87, who lost three daughters in their teens and 20s in the disaster.

“We lost everything (in the accident). There is nothing to say even if this year is a commemorative year. It’s as if time stopped 30 years ago,” Tabuchi said. “Offering consolations (for my daughters) has become the sole purpose of life and the only encouragement for me and my wife.”

On Wednesday, around 250 relatives of the victims will climb to the accident site known as Osutaka Ridge, where they will mourn for their loved ones in front of grave markers and a cenotaph.

The 747 crashed into the mountainous area, located near the borders with Nagano and Saitama prefectures, after a rupture in the plane’s rear pressure bulkhead blew off its vertical stabilizer and destroyed its hydraulics, rendering the aircraft uncontrollable.

In 1987, a government investigation commission concluded that the accident was caused by improper repairs conducted by Boeing Co. on the pressure bulkhead that JAL did not detect in its maintenance checks.

The Gunma Prefectural Police sought prosecution against 20 people, including Boeing employees, for alleged negligence, but in 1989 prosecutors decided not to indict them after Boeing refused to cooperate with investigations.

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