Aviation technology has developed rapidly since the beginning of the 20th century and contemporary airplanes are rigorously maintained and exceptionally safe.
In fact, traveling by air is considered much safer than any kind of travel on the ground, since the abundance of vehicles involved in ground traffic presents a statistically higher risk of a fatal error or an unexpected event that may lead to a disastrous accident.
However, aviation accidents do happen and they are usually extremely deadly, mainly because of the extreme forces involved and the heights from which planes fall to the ground. The crash of Japan Airlines Flight 123 in 1985 is notorious for being the deadliest single-aircraft accident in history: 505 passengers and 15 crew members were lost in the disaster.
Japan Airlines Flight 123 was a Boeing 747SR which departed from the Haneda Airport in Tokyo and was flying towards Osaka International Airport. After 12 minutes of worry-free gliding, the plane suddenly suffered a severe explosive decompression which destroyed the plane’s vertical stabilizer and tore off a part of the tail.
The plane’s cabin was depressurized and the passengers were immediately forced to wear oxygen masks. Also, the decompression caused the crew to completely lose control of the plane’s hydraulics and the aircraft violently swerved and crashed into two ridges of Mount Takamagahara, 100 kilometers from Tokyo.
The official investigation has shown that the pilots managed to keep the plane in the air for another 32 minutes after the depressurization: several expert flight crews re-enacted the accident through a flight simulator, but none of them managed to prevent the crash or even stay in the air longer than 12 minutes after the malfunction of hydraulics.
Despite the extremely harsh circumstances of the accident, the crash of Flight 123 proved that even in the deadliest of crashes there is some hope for survival. Namely, four female passengers miraculously survived the disaster and lived to tell the tale.
Yumi Ochiai, a 26-year old off-duty flight attendant, Keiko Kawakami, a 12-year old girl, and Hiroki Yoshizaki and Mikiko Yoshizaki, a mother and daughter, miraculously survived the crash. All of them were seated in the left row in the rear of the aircraft, and, fortunately, this was the only part of the plane that remained intact.
However, the 12-year old Keiko Kawakami was found under the debris that surrounded the plane. She was catapulted out of her seat when the plane hit the mountain and landed on top of a nearby bush. Although she suffered extensive injuries and had to be treated at a hospital for three months, she fully recovered and continued to live her life. Still, the disastrous accident tragically changed her life: both of her parents and her younger sister were killed in the crash.
After the accident, an investigation revealed that the reason for the disaster was the fact that one of the plane’s stabilizers had been improperly fixed seven years earlier. Despite this, the Japan Airlines company never assumed the responsibility for the accident. However, the president of the company resigned, and Tominaga and Susumu Tajima, a maintenance manager and an engineer who cleared the plane for takeoff, committed suicide out of overwhelming guilt.
Because of the notoriety of the crash of the Japan Airlines Flight 123, the company no longer uses “Flight 123” to designate the flight from Tokyo to Osaka. Instead, the flight is nowadays known as the “Flight 127”, and the company uses Boeings 767 and 777 instead of the formerly used Boeing 747.