Family members of those who died in the harrowing Japan Airlines jumbo jet crash in 1985 climbed a steep mountain trail Saturday to pay respects to the victims ahead of the 35th anniversary of the world's deadliest single-plane accident next month.
Kuniko Miyajima, 73-year-old head of the 8.12 Renrakukai relatives’ association, made the trek to Osutaka Ridge in Gunma Prefecture to mourn those lost in the Boeing 747 crash at a memorial dedicated to the victims, including her son Ken, who was 9.
Because of typhoon damage from last year and the coronavirus pandemic, multiple dates were set for family members to make the climb this year, from July 25 to 26 and from Aug. 11 to 13.
Miyajima and officials from the airline cautiously walked along the ridge through rain for about an hour before arriving at the memorial. As a tribute, they put their hands together for about 10 seconds and sounded a gong, before placing snacks, soap bubble solution and bullet train toys on the headstone of Ken's grave and lighting toy fireworks.
"I am grateful that I could climb this year with the help of Ueno Village," Miyajima said of the municipality hosting the memorial. "Due to the coronavirus impact, the number of climbers this year was low, but I hope to continue to talk about (aviation) safety."
Junko Kishida, 62, lost her father Tadahiko Hanakawa in the crash. She climbed to the memorial with her husband, son, daughter-in-law and 2-year-old grandson Ryusei. She prayed for her father, who was then 55, to watch over her mother.
On Aug. 12, 1985, Flight 123 en route from Tokyo’s Haneda airport to Itami airport in Osaka with 524 passengers and crew aboard, crashed into the ridge, killing nearly everyone. A rupture in the plane’s rear pressure bulkhead led to its vertical stabilizer being blown off, destroying its hydraulics and rendering it uncontrollable. Only four people survived.
A government investigative commission in 1987 concluded the accident was caused by faulty repairs that Boeing Co., the aircraft’s manufacturer, made to the bulkhead in 1978, with JAL failing to detect any problems during maintenance checks.
The police referred 20 people, including Boeing and JAL employees, to prosecutors for alleged negligence in 1988. But none was indicted after Boeing refused to cooperate.
Among the dead was 43-year-old singer Kyu Sakamoto, known for the hit song “Sukiyaki.”