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United Nixes Passenger List Request

December 31, 1997

TOKYO (AP) _ United Airlines is refusing to turn over to Japanese investigators a list of passengers who were aboard an airliner pummeled by heavy turbulence over the weekend.

Interviews with passengers are critical to the investigation of the incident, which killed one person and injured more than 100 aboard Honolulu-bound Flight 826.

Passengers say the plane’s seat-belt sign was not lit at the time the turbulence struck; the airlines says it was on.

Makoto Kitazawa, a member of a Transport Ministry committee investigating the incident, said today a complaint had been made to the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo to press United Airlines to release the list.

United spokesman Hideki Isayama said the airline was following company policy in not turning over the list to Japan’s Transport Ministry.

``We respect the privacy of our customers,″ Isayama said.

Kitazawa, the investigator, said it was ``unthinkable″ that a carrier would refuse to release the list to government investigators.

Ted Lopatkiewicz of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said U.S. law requires airlines to keep a passenger list, which is released to the board upon request.

Tokyo’s request for the passenger list was made to the Tokyo office of United Airlines, and the airline’s Chicago headquarters has not been directly contacted, Kitazawa said.

Most of the 374 passengers on the United Airlines jet that flew into rough air late Sunday were Japanese hoping to spend their New Year’s holiday in Hawaii. The plane was forced to turn back to Narita airport near Tokyo Monday.

Of the six passengers so far interviewed by Japanese investigators, none said the seat-belt sign was on, Kitazawa said. The six were all injured Japanese in hospitals in Japan.

The committee has been unable to interview passengers who were not injured because United has not given them names of other passengers, he said.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which asked for Japanese help in the investigation Tuesday, has said it could not be sure whether the seat-belt sign was on until investigators talked with the crew.

In Washington, the board said that information from the black box showed the plane was severely buffeted by turbulence, but actually dropped much less than originally thought _ 100 feet, rather than the initial estimate of 1,000 feet.

According to the federal investigators, about 1 hour and 31 minutes into the flight, while cruising at 31,000 feet altitude, the plane was struck with an upward force of 1.8 times the force of gravity and a sideways push of about one-tenth the force of gravity.

Six seconds later, the plane dropped with a downward force about 80 percent of gravity, with the passengers feeling nearly weightless for about half a second.

United Airlines has said the seat-belt sign was turned on after the plane hit slight turbulence and announcements were made in English and Japanese alerting passengers to buckle up, then the severe shaking started.

But many passengers said the sign was off and people were wandering around the aisles, when the jet suddenly seemed to give way beneath them, hurling them into the ceiling and overhead luggage compartments.

The rocking tossed the many unbuckled passengers into the ceiling and slammed them into the aisles, some landing several feet away.

A 32-year-old woman died of a head injury. Twelve people remained hospitalized today, United spokesman Takaaki Nakajima said.

Update hourly