Maebashi, Gunma Pref. – Relatives on Wednesday commemorated the 35th anniversary of the Japan Airlines jetliner crash that killed 520 passengers and crew in the world’s deadliest single-aircraft accident.
Members of bereaved families climbed the steep mountain trail to the Boeing 747’s crash site on Osutaka Ridge in Gunma Prefecture to mourn their loved ones. The annual trek was spread over a few days this year, with participation restricted mostly to kin to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The trail was damaged by a typhoon last year but has been sufficiently restored to allow access to the crash site.
Kuniko Miyajima, 73, who lost her 9-year-old son Ken in the crash, slowly walked up the trail, stopping several times to rest.
“It’s disappointing that there are some relatives who wish to climb the trail but could not. I was looking forward to seeing them here,” Miyajima, who leads an association of family members of the victims said, adding that some relatives had come for the first time.
Kiyoko Yamaoka, 74, who lost her teenage daughters Tomomi and Kaoru, makes the trek every year.
“Even though it is physically difficult, I feel that my daughters are waiting for me on the mountain on the 12th,” she said.
According to Japan Airlines Co., around 300 family members usually climb the mountain on Aug. 12 each year to pay their respects at grave markers and a monument at the site, with a record 406 hiking up the trail on the 30th anniversary in 2015.
In the evening, a memorial ceremony will be held at Irei no Sono (Memorial Garden) in the village of Ueno at the foot of the mountain ridge, with a moment of silence to be observed at 6:56 p.m., the time of the crash.
It will be attended only by JAL officials and village residents, while relatives watch a livestream on the village website.
On Aug. 12, 1985, a packed Flight 123, en route from Tokyo to Osaka, crashed 40 minutes after take-off.
It claimed the lives of all but four of the 524 passengers and crew on board, many of whom were on their way home to see their families during the Bon summer holiday season.
Among the dead was Kyu Sakamoto, a 43-year-old singer known for his hit song “Sukiyaki,” as well as many families including children.
In 1987, a government investigation commission concluded that the accident was caused by improper repairs conducted by Boeing Co. on the plane’s rear pressure bulkhead, which ruptured, blowing off the aircraft’s vertical stabilizer and destroying its hydraulics.
It also concluded JAL failed to detect any problems during its maintenance checks.
Police referred to prosecutors 20 people including Boeing and JAL employees for their alleged negligence in 1988, but none were indicted after Boeing refused to cooperate.
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