On February 9th, 1982, Japan Airlines flight number JL350 crashed in Tokyo Bay with the loss of 24 lives. The subsequent inquiry found that the accident was caused by the flight’s captain suffering from a mental health condition. This condition resulted in him deliberately crashing the aircraft on its final approach into Tokyo. Let’s discover more about the events surrounding this tragic accident.
Japan Airlines flight JL350 was operating a domestic service from Fukuoka Airport (FUK) to Tokyo-Haneda Airport (HND). The flight was operated by a Douglas DC-8-61 with the registration JA8061. The flight had 166 passengers onboard and eight crew. This aircraft first flew in 1967 and had a total flight time of 36,955 hours at the time of the accident.
The flight departed Fukuoka at 07:34 for the hour-long flight to Tokyo. The flight was packed with business travelers heading to the country’s capital city for the start of the business day.
A routine domestic flight…
The majority of the flight passed uneventfully. After take-off, the aircraft climbed to its cruising altitude of 29,000 feet. At 08:22, it started the descent into Tokyo. Once the plane had descended to 3,000 feet, the crew were cleared to make an ILS approach to runway 33R at Haneda Airport. Haneda is one of two major airports serving Tokyo, the other being Tokyo-Narita (NRT).
As the aircraft made its final approach, the flaps were lowered in stages, and the landing gear was dropped at 08:39. Three minutes later, the aircraft descended through 1,000 feet with an airspeed of 135 knots. At 500 feet, the co-pilot called out the height to the captain, the pilot flying the aircraft on this sector. However, the captain failed to respond contrary to the airline’s standard operating procedures (SOP). Neither did he confirm that the aircraft was “stabilized” on its final approach, also a requirement of the SOP.
…until the final approach
At 08:43, the aircraft passed through 300 feet above the waters of Tokyo Bay, traveling at 133 knots. The co-pilot warned the captain that they were approaching the decision height. This is a pre-determined height where the pilot flying must decide whether to continue with the intention to land or to perform a missed approach or ‘go around.’ The aircraft passed 200 feet six seconds later, and the radio altimeter warning sounded. The flight engineer also called out that the plane had reached decision height without a response from the captain.
At 08:44, the aircraft descended through 164 feet at 130 knots. Suddenly and without any prior warning, the captain canceled the autopilot, retarded the throttles, and pushed his control column fully forward. With little time to respond, the co-pilot and flight engineer attempted to restrain the captain and regain control of the aircraft. However, despite their best efforts, the aircraft entered the shallow waters of Tokyo Bay just 510 meters from the threshold of runway 33R.
The moment of impact
The nose section (including the flight deck and forward passenger cabin) separated on impact, along with the aircraft’s right wing. Twenty-four passengers lost their lives in the crash. The captain was found to be one of the first of those onboard to climb into an attending rescue boat. It was subsequently found that he told rescuers that he was an office worker, having allegedly removed his uniform to avoid being identified as one of the flight crew.
Accident inquiry and findings
The subsequent inquiry found that the captain (Seiji Katagiri, aged 35 years) had suffered some form of mental aberration in the final stages of the flight. It also revealed that he had been signed off as unfit to fly from November 1980 until November 1981 due to a ‘psychosomatic disorder.’ This was just two months before it took command of the ill-fated flight 350.
However, at trial, he was found not guilty and cleared of all charges on the grounds of suffering from a mental health condition at the time of the accident.
Not a one off event
Commercial aircraft accidents resulting from deliberate flight crew intervention are extremely rare. That said, history has witnessed several accidents where a flight crew member has deliberately or is suspected of having intentionally caused their aircraft to crash. Notably, these include –
- Royal Air Maroc flight 630 (August 21st, 1994)
- Silk Air flight 185 (December 19th, 1997)
- EgyptAir flight 990 (October 31st, 1999)
- Germanwings flight 9525 (March 24th, 2015)
- LAM Mozambique Airlines flight 470 (November 29th, 2015)
What are your thoughts on the accident involving Japan Airlines Flight 350? Let us know in the comments.
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