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Anniversary of JAL 123 Crash Renews Requests to Re-Open Investigation

A JAL 747 registered as JA8119 which crashed on August 12, 1985 in Japan. (Photo: Kjell Nilsson – https://aviation-safety.net/photo/9304/Boeing-747-SR46-JA8119, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=83253632)

This week marks the 35th anniversary of the deadliest single aircraft accident in aviation history. Japan Airlines flight 123, a B747 flying from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport to Osaka International Airport, crashed 32 minutes after departure near Mount Osutaka in Japan, killing 520 people. All but four passengers were lost in the accident.

Despite the accident occurring 35 years ago, and an investigation conducted by the usual investigatory parties including the U.S.’ National Transportation Safety Board, some of the families of those who perished in the crash, as well as several aviation experts, attorneys, and other interested parties, have asked that the investigation be reopened and the associated accident records are released.

At issue is missing data and unanswered questions, three decades after the crash. Families are asserting that key questions were left unanswered or rejected when asked. The families are also asserting that rescuers were negligent in their slow response, having not arrived at the accident scene until 11 hours after it occurred.

In a story reported by the Japan Times, in addition to the reopening of the investigation and the disclosure of the information requested, the campaign is also demanding the salvaging of the Boeing 747’s tail fin, which still lies in Sagami Bay where it fell. They assert the salvaging of the tail fin was repeatedly rejected by the Japanese government at the time of the original investigation and is believed to contain additional information that may shed more light on the cause of the accident.

The accident was investigated by Japan’s Aircraft Accident Investigation Commission under the Ministry of Transport. The report concluded that a previously accomplished repair to the fuselage’s aft pressure bulkhead had failed, leading to the accident. The repair in question was necessary after the accident aircraft sustained a tail strike during a landing seven years prior.

When the aft pressure bulkhead failed, it allowed cabin pressure to enter into the tail compartment and vertical fin areas causing a structural overload and subsequent separation of the tail fin. The resulting damage caused the loss of all hydraulic systems which prevented the flight crew from controlling the airplane properly. 

The accident report concluded that the accident was caused by improper repairs conducted by Boeing Co., the maker of the aircraft, on the pressure bulkhead, which JAL did not detect in its maintenance checks.

A key question the families are asking is why a pressure relief door in the tail compartment, designed to relieve pressure accumulation like what was seen in the accident aircraft, didn’t perform its intended function. Investigators found the door appeared to have unlatched and opened but that assertion is being questioned by the survivor families.

The families also cite that autopsy records, radio communication transcripts, voice recorder, and flight recorder data has been withheld from the public and should be made available.

Susanne Bayly-Yukawa, who lost her partner in the crash told the Japan Times, “I was the last person to believe or even consider there was another cause of the crash. However, presented with the facts from experts, I became convinced the truth had been hidden.”

Rick Shideler


  • Rick Shideler

    Rick is a retired airline maintenance professional with over 40 years experience in commercial, corporate and military aviation sectors. Rick holds an FAA Airframe & Powerplant (A&P) and a FCC General RadioTelephone Licenses. Rick is a veteran of the United States Air Force and has served in multiple leadership positions including Director of Maintenance for a large corporate aviation firm, airline Director of Engineering and has chaired multiple aviation maintenance safety and reliability industry committees. Rick took his first airplane ride at six months old and became an airline geek shortly thereafter.

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