Family, Airline Officials Attend Services Marking JAL Crash
UENOMURA, Japan, (AP) _ More than 1,700 relatives of people killed in the world’s worst single plane disaster one year ago gathered in this remote village Sunday for the unveiling of a monument commemorating the 520 victims.
The family members and more than 500 guests crowded under two circus-size tents during a three-hour dedication ceremony.
The 36-foot granite monument consists of two symmetrical sections of a cone, symbolizing hands clasped in prayer.
Uenomura is about 5 miles from where the Japan Air Lines Boeing 747 crashed on Aug. 12, 1985, on a domestic flight from Tokyo to Osaka. The village is about 62 miles northwest of Tokyo.
Four people survived, including Hiroko Yoshizaki, 35, and her 9-year-old daughter, Mikiko, who attended the ceremony.
The ceremony was held nine days before the first anniversary because the Aug. 12 date is too close to Obon, a three-day event beginning Aug. 15 when Japanese families get together to pray for their ancestors.
The 520 deaths were exceeded in aviation history only by the March 27, 1977, airport collision of two jetliners on Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands, in which 582 people were killed.
″I’ve come here today to pay respects to all the family members and apologize for this tragic accident,″ President Frank A. Shrontz of the Boeing Co. said in a brief address at the end of the ceremony.
Boeing has acknowledged that faulty repairs were made on the plane after it scraped a tail during a landing at Osaka airport in 1978.
″Nobody is absolutely perfect,″ Shrontz told reporters after the ceremony. ″It happened, but it only happened once.″
JAL President Susumu Yamaji told the news conference: ″As I was watching the mourners come to the ceremony today, children without parents, lonesome elders and women (widows) walking alone, I told myself we should never let this happen again.″
Shrontz declined comment when asked if faulty repair was directly responsible for the accident.
A final Japanese report on the cause of the crash has not been completed. Preliminary investigations indicated that the plane’s rear pressure wall burst shortly after take-off, sending a rush of compressed air into the non- pressurized tail section. This, in turn, severely damaged the tail fin and severed all four of the plane’s hydraulic systems.
The flawed repair was conducted on the pressure wall.
The families of some victims have filed lawsuits against Boeing and JAL, saying the airline conducted inadequate inspections after Boeing’s repair.
At the ceremony, village children joined hands with about 100 children related to crash victims to unveil the monument, located on the side of a small hill in the village center.
The monument faces the ridge of 5,408-foot-high Mount Osutaka, where JAL flight 123 plummeted after losing control 30 minutes earlier over Sagami Bay south of Tokyo.
Solemn classical music played by a police band and the occasional cry from a child were the only sounds heard during the ceremony.
Last year, the roar of scores of helicopters bearing away bodies shook this farm village of 2,082 people.
At a small shrine near the crash site atop Mount Osutaka, scores of family members offered flowers and incense. In the clearing where the plane crashed, only a few bits of titanium and charred tree roots served as reminders.
″Everything is back to normal now,″ said village official Masatoshi Tamura.
Last Friday, JAL officials unveiled a smaller cenotaph inscribed with Chinese characters for Monument to the Ascending Spirits.