|Date||November 22, 1968|
|Summary||Accidental ditching on approach due to pilot error|
|Site||San Francisco Bay, San Mateo County, California, USA |
|Aircraft type||Douglas DC-8-62|
|Flight origin||Tokyo International Airport|
|Destination||San Francisco International Airport|
Japan Airlines Flight 2 was a scheduled passenger flight on November 22, 1968. The plane was a new Douglas DC-8 named "Shiga", flying from Tokyo International Airport (Haneda) to San Francisco International Airport. Due to heavy fog and other factors, Captain Kohei Asoh mistakenly ditched the plane near Coyote Point in the shallow waters of San Francisco Bay, two and a half miles short of the runway. None of the 96 passengers and 11 crew were injured in the landing.
An early report from the Coast Guard stated the aircraft came to rest upside down. In fact, the plane came to rest on the Bay floor in shallow water approximately 7 feet (2.1 m) deep, leaving the forward exits above the waterline. The chief purser, Kazuo Hashimoto, felt there was no panic amongst passengers after landing, and tried to make an announcement with the public address (PA) system. Since the PA system had failed after the landing, he ended up shouting from the forward cabin for passengers to "Be quiet, the plane has reached the bottom of the sea. It will not sink. Do not worry, we are well-fixed for evacuation." The passengers and crew all evacuated the plane on lifeboats, which were towed by police and Coast Guard boats to the nearby Coyote Point Yacht Harbor. Captain Asoh was the last to leave. Asoh returned to the plane after ensuring everyone was safely ashore to gather and return the passengers' personal belongings.
After the incident, the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) stated it was the first successful ditching of a jetliner since the inauguration of jet service. The landing may have been assisted by the unusually high tide of 7 feet (2.1 m), compared with the typical water level of 4 feet (1.2 m), leading South San Francisco fire chief John Marchi to declare the ditching "a one-in-a-million shot" as the increased depth gave sufficient cushioning while being shallow enough that exit doors would remain above the water.
Captain Asoh was a veteran pilot who had flown with Japan Airlines for 14 years in 1968, with roughly 10,000 hours of flight time, 1,000 of them on DC-8s. During World War II he served as a flight instructor for the Japanese military. His first officer, Captain Joseph Hazen, had similar flight time, but little DC-8 experience. Captain Asoh attempted an automatic-coupled Instrument Landing System (ILS) approach, something neither of them had done before on a recorded DC-8 flight.
The cloud ceiling was 300 feet, with visibility of 3/4 of a mile, and there was little contrast between the sky and the calm waters of the bay. As a result, once the plane descended below the clouds, the mistake was not recognized in time to correct it before hitting the water. Captain Asoh stated that he realized the plane was too low once he spotted the water after the plane broke through the fog at an altitude of 211 feet (64 m) with an air speed of 177 mi/h (285 km/h). He grabbed the control stick to gain altitude, but the plane had already struck the water.
Captain Asoh stated (through a translator) that "the plane was fully automatic" and he couldn't "say what was wrong [to cause the water landing]" because he had been in contact with the control tower during the entire approach and was never informed he had deviated from the flight path.
The NTSB review of the incident found that:
The probable cause of this accident was the improper application of the prescribed procedures to execute an automatic-coupled ILS approach. This deviation from the prescribed procedures was, in part, due to a lack of familiarization and infrequent operation of the installed flight director and autopilot system.
Asoh, when asked by the NTSB about the landing, reportedly replied, "As you Americans say, I fucked up." In his 1988 book The Abilene Paradox, author Jerry B. Harvey termed this frank acceptance of blame the "Asoh defense", and the story and term have been taken up by a number of other management theorists.
The aircraft was not severely damaged and was recovered 55 hours after the incident at high tide, after several failed earlier attempts to hoist it out of the water. After being sprayed down with 20,000 US gallons (76,000 l; 17,000 imp gal) of fresh water, it was transported to the airport on a 150-foot (46 m) barge. External damage was extremely minor, as it had been noted that the only part of external equipment damaged on the aircraft was the right gear bogie, as one wheel had been sheared off when the plane ditched. Further inspections revealed only slight structural damage, with repairs estimated to take less than six months.
United Airlines offered JAL to refurbish and repair the aircraft for US$4,000,000 (equivalent to $28,230,000 in 2020), to which Japan Airlines agreed, and the aircraft was fixed and refurbished over a period of half a year. The aircraft was returned to JAL on March 31, 1969, and underwent a successful test flight on April 11, 1969 from San Francisco to Honolulu. It was later renamed "Hidaka" and continued in service to JAL until 1983.
Asoh was temporarily barred from passenger planes, demoted to First Officer, went through further ground training, and continued to fly for JAL until his retirement. Hazen also returned to flying a few months later.
By 1973 Japan Airlines was using Boeing 747 aircraft on the Tokyo to San Francisco route. Today, Japan Airlines still operates a route named Flight 2 (JAL002) from Haneda to San Francisco, currently using the Boeing 777-300ER.
JA8032 was sold to Air ABC (registration TF-BBF), then to Okada Air (registration 5N-AON), and finally flew as an express freighter for Airborne Express (registration N808AX) before being decommissioned and scrapped at Wilmington Air Park (ILN) in December 2001.