It remains the deadliest accident for a single aircraft in aviation history.
At just after 6:00 p.m. on August 12, 1985, Japan Airlines (JAL) Flight 123 took off for Osaka from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. About 12 minutes later, the Boeing 747 lost its rear stabilizer due to a repair flaw following a previous incident. A loss of cabin pressure and problems with hydraulic systems subsequently rendered the aircraft uncontrollable. It later crashed into the mountains of Ueno, Gunma Prefecture, approximately 60 miles from Tokyo.
Of the 15 crew members and 509 passengers aboard the plane, four survived the tragedy.
With the 30-year anniversary of the accident approaching, weekly tabloid Shukan Jitsuwa (Aug. 6) mentions a little-known postscript: A former organized crime member pressured the airline into providing him with a prolonged and lucrative compensation package.
The source of the claim is Yoshitaka Ito, who at the time of the accident was a manager with a firm connected to Nippon Express, a logistics company. For Japan Airlines, he performed a number of tasks, including the removal of snow from runways. After the crash of Flight 123, he was responsible for collecting the plane’s fuselage.
“For Japan Airlines, the matter of compensating the families of the victims was most difficult,” says Ito.
One challenge was that the payment amount needed to be determined, which necessitated the regrettable task of taking into account each victim’s age and social status. The substantial period was also problematic.
“Not only was the compensation to the confirmed bereaved families a massive amount, but the process continued for years,” he says.
Among the “confirmed bereaved families” was the ex-gangster. His common-law wife was among the victims on Flight 123. After the accident, the airline determined that he was to be paid 45 million yen in compensation. The former mobster, who is not named by the magazine, held out until he received 70 million yen.
But that’s not all he did.
“In 1991, he founded a travel agency,” continues Ito. “Japan Airlines then provided the agency with a large supply of tickets. As a result, the agency reaped handsome sales commissions. After three years, total revenue for the company reached three billion yen.”
According to Ito, the airline made a final payment of 500 million yen to the former gangster.
The matter was not ignored in the press. The Asahi Shimbun newspaper and weekly tabloid Shukan Shincho both ran stories on the windfall. In fact, the former gangster was interviewed in the Asahi Shimbun. He died due to natural causes in 2002.
When reached for comment by Shukan Jitsuwa, Japan Airlines chose to withhold comment on compensation paid to the victims and any other benefits that may have been provided.
Ito says that another ex-yakuza carried out a similar plot to receive an exorbitant sum from JAL. He describes people who do such things as “preposterous.”
“Some people cannot quit with these intolerable acts,” says Ito. “They are filling their pockets by using their status as that of a member of a bereaved family. When the deceased in Heaven hear of this, they will assuredly be crying.”
Source: “Moto boryokudan no izoku ni 5 oku-en! ‘Nikkokitsuirakujiko’ fuin sa reta hoshokin no yami,” Shukan Jitsuwa (Aug. 6, pages 202-205)