Japan Airlines Flight 123 (JAL123) took off from Haneda-Tokyo Airport, bound for Osaka at 6:12 p.m. on August 12, 1985. A little less than an hour ago (5:17 p.m.), the same plane, JL8119, had returned from a flight to Kyushu with no problems. The plane was refuelled, and a new flight crew came aboard. The only noticable thing being that the first officer was being promoted by a Check Captain to Captain himself.
Commanding the flight was 49 year-old, Masami Takahama, a Training Captain, and 19 year veteran of the company with 12,500 hours of flight time. Five minutes after take-off JAL123 requested permission for a more direct route to Osaka from Tokyo Air Traffic Control (ATC), which was granted. Six minutes after, the emergency distress transponder code 7700 appeared on the screen of the Tokyo ATC, the sign of a plane in distress.
Following this, JAL123 requested a return to Haneda, which was granted. However the controller noted that instead of making the 117 turn back to Haneda, it was only making a 50 turn. JAL123 had suffered an explosive decompression of the rear vertical tailplane above Sagami Bay and lost a 15 foot section of its leading vertical edge (This was picked up by a ship). This disabled all its hydraulics, and rendered the plane's flying controls useless and essentially uncontrollable except by use of engine thrusts.
One of the survivors, Yumi Ochiai, reported the incident as such:
There was a sudden loud noise. It was somewhere to the rear and overhead. It hurt my ears and immediately the cabin filled with white mist. The vent hole at the cabin crew seat also opened...There was no actual sound of any explosion but the ceiling panels above the rear toilets fell off. Then the passengers' oxygen masks dropped down...
For a little more than 30 minutes, the crew of JAL123 managed to keep the wounded plane aloft. As it slowly lost altitude, the plane swung around the Izu Peninsula and then headed out over Suruga Bay in a north-westerly direction before glancing off a ridge and crashing into the lower slopes of Mount Osutaka. Keiko Kawakami (12), Yumi Ochiai (28), Hiroko Yoshizaki (12), and Mikiko Yoshizaki (8) were the only survivors of 524 on board, making it the worst disaster involving a single plane.
Investigators discovered that a improperly repared rear pressure bulkhead by Boeing was the culprit after the plane had a tail scrape on landing in 1978. Another piece of evidence is the grainy photo of JAL123, taken from a mountain village, one can clearly see that the tail assembly has been completely blown off.
It should be noted that Japan Airlines agreed to take 20% responsibilty for the disaster. This is because previous pilots of JA8119 had noted that there were whistling noises from the back of the plane, but no one bothered to take any note of it. Boeing also cautioned the engineers who repaired JA8119 to be particularly careful on international flights following the disaster, as they could be taken into Japanese custody and prosecuted. However, the United States refused extradition, a practice done to allow more open and honest reports while making a investigation (Why the NTSB was doing an investigation was because of a "similar" incident on a Air India flight not too long prior...later that was found to be a bomb).
Today, a memorial stands at Uenomura Village shrine with the ashes of all the unidentified victims. On August 12, 1999, the belongings recovered from 21 victims were placed in a stainless steel container, and buried at the crash site of JAL123.
Excerpt of the Cockpit Voice Recorder (Final Moments)
"Sink rate! Pull up! Pull up! Pull up!" (Ground Proximity Warning System)
"Dame da!" (Roughly, "We're screwed now!" or "It's bad!")
"Pull up! Pull up! Pull up!" (GPWS)
"Pull up! Pull up! Pull up!" (GPWS)
Second Impact, and sound of metal grinding
* This is a bit redundant, and take it as a supplement to the above writeup.