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Woman killed by jet turbulence, 13 still hospitalized

December 30, 1997

TOKYO (AP) _ Takamasa Kataura wishes he had traded places with his wife.

The 32-year-old woman was killed when violent winds hit the United Airlines jet the couple was flying to Hawaii for their dream vacation.

Konomi Kataura suffered severe head injuries after being tossed headfirst into the ceiling of the plane, which had suddenly plummeted 1,000 feet, throwing wine glasses, luggage, food and unbuckled passengers around the cabin.

At least 102 people also were injured when severe turbulence struck the jet late Sunday over the Pacific Ocean.

Twelve people, including one crew member, remained hospitalized today, said Hideki Iseyama, a United spokesman in Tokyo. He refused to give their condition or say how many were seriously injured.

The hospitalized crew member is a 50-year-old woman who lives in Hawaii, the Asahi newspaper reported.

Among the six passengers being treated at one hospital for neck injuries, four will require three months of treatment, said Hokuso hospital official Takaaki Kawamura.

Passengers said they did not remember the seat-belt sign being lit and recalled people walking the aisles of the plane when the turbulence struck.

But a United Airlines spokeswoman, Kristina Price, said the seat-belt sign was turned on after the plane encountered slight turbulence. Announcements were made in English and Japanese alerting passengers to buckle up, and then the shaking got worse, she said from Chicago.

Federal safety investigators could not be sure whether the sign was lit until they talked with the crew, said Matthew Furman, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board.

The plane’s flight recorders were being sent to NTSB headquarters in Washington to aid the investigation.

At the request of the NTSB, Japanese officials were interviewing hospitalized passengers, asking specifically about the seat-belt sign and instructions received from the crew, Transportation Ministry official Toshio Murayama said.

Results of the investigation will be sent to the NTSB in early January, he said.

Like many other Japanese aboard Flight 826, which carried 374 passengers and 19 crew members, the Katauras planned to spend the New Year’s holiday relaxing in Hawaii.

``She died right before my eyes, and there was nothing I could do to help save her,″ the Yomiuri newspaper quoted Kataura as saying in today’s editions.

Junichiro Tsuda, Mrs. Kataura’s boss at the Tokyo-based hobby goods company Garson Co., recalled she had been giddy about her vacation.

``She was so looking forward to taking that trip with her husband,″ Tsuda said in a telephone interview. ``It’s really sad ... and I’ve lost my best sales person.″

When the plane started shaking, Mrs. Kataura clung to her husband’s hand, Kyodo News reported.

``Only I was spared,″ Kyodo quoted Kataura, a 33-year-old worker at a household products manufacturer, as saying. ``I should have changed seats with Konomi.″