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    20th anniversary of Osutaka crash

    Today is the 20th anniversary of the crash of JAL flight 123, which killed 520 people and remains the worst single-plane disaster in civil aviation history. The plane depressurized suddenly while flying from Tokyo to Osaka after losing its vertical stabilizer and hydraulic lines. The anniversary is played up on the news every year here not only because of the large number of deaths (including Kyu Sakamoto, who sang the song released as “Sukiyaki” in the US) but also because the crew’s heroic efforts to use momentum to control the plane bought it 30 minutes before it crashed, enough time for many passengers to prepare farewells for relatives and affix identifying documents to their bodies. The flawed repair and maintenance that led to the tailfin separation were the fault of both Boeing and JAL; a round of suicides ensued.

    Japan’s transportation networks are objects of intense national pride, and after the JAL 123 crash, the airlines and civil aviation authorities redoubled their efforts to prevent accidents. In one of this morning’s editorials, the Nikkei drily notes:

    On that day [12 August 1985] Japan became acquainted with the pain of aviation accidents in the era of jumbo jet transport, and since then the assumption has been that those in the aviation industry continue to work hard, motivated by a resolve to assure that such an accident can never happen again. For 20 years, there have been no regular Japanese airline has experienced a crash.

    However, recently, a incident upon incident has called into question that hard work and resolve.

    In recent years, there have been a number of nail-biting near misses, the most famous of which was the 2001 incident in which air traffic controllers mistakenly steered two JAL jets into each other’s paths. The planes, carrying a total of almost 700 passengers and crew, came within about 30 feet (!) of each other midair; one of the jets had to make collision-avoidance maneuvers so violent that 42 people were injured.

    There have been plenty of other, lesser incidents (try searching this site for references to “JAL” and “ANA” just in the past year), and both major airlines have been officially censured by the Ministry of Land, Transport and Infrastructure. The best light to put on things is that the bad press about safety has given everyone concerned excellent motivation to tighten up operations; what tightening up is actually being done remains uncertain.

    One Response to “20th anniversary of Osutaka crash”

    1. Nothing to fear but face itself?

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