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United Releases Passenger List

December 31, 1997

TOKYO (AP) _ United Airlines has begun providing Japanese investigators with a list of passengers from an airliner pummeled by heavy turbulence earlier this week, a spokesman said today, following accusations that the airline was refusing to cooperate.

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 lighted at the time the turbulence struck; the airlines says it was on.

``We’re in the process of providing a current passenger manifest, or passenger list, to the MOT, the lead Japanese investigating authority,″ United spokesman Richard Martin said today, speaking at company headquarters outside Chicago. ``The National Transportation Safety Board is doing so as well.″

Earlier, United spokesman Hideki Isayama had said the airline was following company policy in not turning over the list to Japan’s Transport Ministry, saying, ``We respect the privacy of our customers.″

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.

Of the six passengers interviewed by Japanese investigators so far, none said the seat-belt sign was on, said Makoto Kitazawa, a member of a Transport Ministry committee investigating the accident. The six were all injured Japanese hospitalized in Japan.

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

In Washington, the board said 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 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.

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

Meanwhile, the plane left Tokyo today for Las Vegas, where federal investigators were to inspect it, Japan’s Transport Ministry said.

The plane’s interior has been left as it was, but the Federal Aviation Administration found the jetliner airworthy for the flight, said Chikayoshi Hirasawa, head of the ministry’s office at Tokyo’s international airport.

Hirasawa declined to comment on a report by the Japanese news agency Kyodo that the plane was 25 years old and would be scrapped.

United officials in Tokyo were not immediately available to comment.

Update hourly