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Home > Media Reiews > News Review Last Updated: 14:53 03/09/2007
News Review #187: January 22, 2004

United Tech CEO: Cracks Not Safety Worry

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

"United Tech CEO: Cracks Not Safety Worry"
(by Tim McLaughlin) Reuters


It was in 1985, at 6:12 pm on August 12, a Boeing 747 Japan Airlines Flight 123 left Tokyo's Haneda airport, heading for Osaka. Twelve minutes after take off, over the Pacific Ocean, an abrupt explosive sound shook the plane, and the whole tail fin structure and the APU was lost, also ripping apart a part of the hydraulic power system that delivers control commands to various parts of the craft. The airplane at that point virtually lost its function as such, where the pilot with the most prominent skills could only keep it from tumbling upside down, and its altitude and bearing becoming uncontrollable.

After 31 minutes of futile efforts in the cockpit, the doomed flight ended by crashing at the speed of 346 knots, or 640 km per hour, into a heavy forest covering the mountains where it would take an hour for an experienced climber to reach from the nearest village, itself a quiet hamlet at the end of a valley road. The incident killed 520 people with four survivors heavily injured, which marked the worst tragedy in air transport history.

The official report later publicized states the probable cause as "the rupture of the aft pressure bulkhead with subsequent ruptures of the tail, vertical fin and hydraulic flight control systems" which was caused by "the improper repairs of the bulkhead conducted in 1978, and insufficient maintenance unable to find the fatigue cracks later."

The trauma caused by the incident keeps coming back to haunt Japanese people, much like the assassination of President Kennedy to Americans and the fatal accident of Princess Diana to Britons. Numerous stories, some claiming it to be the truth, while others listed as fictions inspired by the incident, were published since then. One of the major story lines is that the manufacturer, Boeing, used all its clout on US and Japanese governments to get a break, concealing more serious faults on their part, on the design, manufacture, or maintenance of the aircraft.

It has been reported this week that out of 25 MD81s and 87s Japan Air System operates, cracks were found in the engines of 18 aircrafts, all manufactured by Pratt & Whitney, in a special inspection conducted following an unusual vibration reported in one of its fleet earlier in the week during a scheduled flight.

The article introduced here reports that Chairman George David of United Technologies Corp. who owns Pratt & Whitney has said, "engines in Japan do not pose a flight safety problem" and "to find a crack in an engine part is not is not a safety issue."

Of course, no sensible person would want to believe that a prestigious and admired business entity such as UTC would have any malicious intent, or to unduly deny, if it exists, its responsibilities. But the comment could annoy some people. Such a hasty comment , especially considering that no legitimate investigation has been initiated by the manufacturer yet, may be effective in the skewed US judicial system as a tactic of pre-emptive blow to potential plaintiffs, but would likely work adversely in winning peoples' faiths, for whatever it's worth.

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