It’s said that bad luck always comes in threes, and so it proved in 1966 when Japan experienced three catastrophic air crashes in quick succession. The first was a Boeing 727 that came down in Tokyo Bay in early February on final approach to Haneda Airport. Most passengers were returning from a winter carnival on the island of Hokkaido and all died, along with the crew – a total of 139 fatalities. The pilot was attempting a non-instrument night landing when the aircraft vanished from radar screens 10 km (6 mi) short of touchdown. It wasn’t long before fishermen were pulling bodies from the sea and the shattered fuselage was found on the seabed and recovered – still full of corpses.
A month later, Canadian Pacific Airlines Flight 402 from Hong Kong to Vancouver had a stopover in Japan. Upon arrival above Tokyo International, poor visibility precluded a landing. After circling, the pilot decided to divert to Taiwan but the control tower told him visibility had improved and he attempted to put the McDonnell Douglas DC-8 down. He misjudged the approach and landing gear struck a lighting beacon. The plane went out of control and hit the sea wall bordering the airport, disintegrating into a trail of blazing wreckage. Amazingly, eight passengers survived. Ten crew and 54 passengers did not.
The next day, BOAC Speedbird 911 took off from Tokyo International bound for Hong Kong, from whence ill-fated Flight 402 had originated. Passing the still-smoldering remains of the DC-8, BOAC’s Boeing 707 took off and soared away towards Mount Fuji. Above the iconic volcano the plane broke up in flight and crashed, killing all 124 souls aboard – 113 passengers and 11 crew. The cause was violent air turbulence, completing a tragic trio of disastrous air crashes in barely a month.
When were the Japanese Air Crashes: February 2, March 4 and March 5 1966
Where were the Japanese Air Crashes: Tokyo Bay, Tokyo international Airport, Mount Fuji, Japan
What were the Japanese Air Crashes death toll: The cumulative total for the three disasters was 327 casualties.
You should know: in fact, there were five air crashes in Japan during 1966. In August a Japan Air Lines Convair crashed and five died. Then All Nippon Airways lost Flight 533 in November when a Japanese-built turboprop airliner crashed after an aborted landing at Matsuyama Airport, killing 50. The combined effect of all these fatal crashes caused a sharp dip in demand for domestic flights within Japan.