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747 Survivor Tells of Jet Breaking Up : Sections of Ceiling Fell; JAL Craft 'Weaved Wildly'

August 15, 1985|SAM JAMESON | Times Staff Writer

TOKYO — An off-duty flight attendant who survived the Japan Air Lines disaster said Wednesday that about half an hour before the jumbo jet slammed into a mountain with 524 people aboard, she heard a loud "bam" sound overhead near the tail, the air in the cabin turned "white" and parts of the ceiling collapsed.

Soon after the first sign of trouble, the plane began to sway and weave wildly and went into "a steep descent," said Yumi Ochiai, 26, an assistant purser who is one of four survivors. "It seemed like it was going straight down."

Ochiai, who suffered pelvic and arm fractures, told her story from a hospital bed as a third fragment from the plane's rear section was discovered in Sagami Bay, 100 miles from the crash site. The heavily loaded plane was bound from Tokyo's Haneda Airport to the western city of Osaka when it crashed in the Japanese Alps on Monday night.

Rudder Piece Found

The third fragment was identified as coming from the lower part of the rudder, behind the tail fin. It bore the letters AL, from the JAL in the airline's logo.

Earlier, a large part of the tail fin and a six-foot fiber-glass tube from the Boeing 747's auxiliary power unit were also found in the bay.

The discoveries in Sagami Bay and Ochiai's eyewitness report indicated that major parts of the airplane's tail, as well as at least one piece from the rear of the fuselage, fell off--or were torn off--before the crash. Aviation experts said the in-flight disintegration could explain why the pilot could not control the aircraft as it staggered far off course and plunged at sunset into remote, heavily forested 5,408-foot Mt. Osutaka, 70 miles northwest of Tokyo.

So far, however, there has been no explanation as to what might have caused parts of the aircraft to break off.

Developments in the world's worst single-aircraft disaster unfolded rapidly Wednesday and today.

Suspect Door Intact

The right rear cabin door, which the pilot, Capt. Masami Takahama, 49, reported had "broken" in radio communications with air-traffic controllers, was found intact at the crash site, ending speculation that the door might have broken off in flight and struck the tail fin.

A thin, 19 1/2-inch-high piece of the tail fin, attached to a piece of fuselage, was all that was found of the tall tail fin at the crash site. The rounded rear of the fuselage was also missing.

The investigators' inability to find major parts of the tail indicate that all of it may have broken off in flight.

Rescue workers recovered both the plane's flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder in debris in which the bodies of more than 200 people were believed to be buried.

The Japanese Transportation Ministry disclosed the radar-tracked route the plane flew to its fate. It showed that the plane repeatedly weaved from left to right--and at one point made a complete circle.

Early today, the ministry also issued "emergency instructions" to all four Japanese airlines to conduct inspections of all of their 69 jumbo jet aircraft within 300 hours and ordered any 747 not subjected to such an inspection to be grounded. For 747s with more than 15,000 flights, the ministry ordered the airlines to complete inspections within 100 hours. Seven areas of the aircraft were specified for special attention, including the tail fin, its attachments to the main body of the aircraft, and the rudder.

Yasumoto Takagi, president of the airline, which is partly government-owned, told Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone that he assumes responsibility for the accident, JAL's second fatal crash in the last three years, and will resign "at an appropriate time" in the near future. Takagi later made the same announcement at a news conference.

Nakasone agreed to accept Takagi's resignation and was reported to be considering appointing Naoshi Machida, a former Transportation Ministry bureaucrat who is now a vice president of JAL, to succeed him.

The prime minister also told Takagi he is not pleased with the airline's recent operations record. Nakasone complained of an incident three years ago when a mentally ill JAL pilot tried to nose-dive an aircraft into Tokyo Bay, causing a crash that killed 24 persons, and another incident last month when a chartered JAL plane Nakasone took on a tour of Europe developed an oil leak before takeoff. The prime minister and his party were forced to wait in the aircraft at Haneda Airport for nearly two hours as repairs were made.

Meanwhile, rescue parties made up of firefighters, police officers and 4,500 members of Japan's Self-Defense Forces loaded 200 bodies onto helicopters at a hastily built heliport on a mountain ridge at the crash site and flew them to a makeshift morgue in a gymnasium in the nearby town of Fujioka. Relatives had identified only 74 of the bodies, many of which were badly burned and mangled.

U.S. Experts Arrive

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