Fittingly right before Obon too.

Four minutes before midnight on 5 August, flight JL123 was seen approaching Narita Airport from Narita Airport on the flight tracking website Flight Radar 24. Once spotted, this got the attention of many online and understandably so as Japan Airlines Flight 123 crashed 35 years ago almost to the day.

“Um, they’re using Japan Airlines 123 (JL123)… Why??”

On 12 August, 1985, flight JL123 took off from Haneda Airport in Tokyo but shortly into its trip to Osaka experienced severe decompression that destroyed its tail and caused the aircraft to plummet into the mountains of Gunma Prefecture. 520 people on board died, making it the deadliest single-plane accident in the world to this day.

▼ Among those killed was world-famous singer Kyu Sakamoto

Making this sighting more surreal was the fact that it occurred only days before Japan’s Obon season. This is traditionally considered the time that the souls of the deceased return to the realm of the living.

After the commotion started brewing online, J-Cast News contacted a rep with JAL who confirmed that JL123 did appear on the radar but that it was a randomly chosen number by a tech worker during some regular transponder maintenance.

This JL123 was actually flight JL712, returning to Narita from Singapore. However, between 11:56 p.m. and 12:22 a.m. it was relabeled JL123, a number arbitrarily selected by one of the IT staff. The number could have been any combination of 4 digits but as fate would have it, the same number as an infamous crashed flight almost exactly 35 years earlier just before a holiday honoring the dead was picked.

▼ Even stranger, 0123 is also my PIN… What are the chances?

JAL apologized for the insensitive mistake and promised that they would train staff about certain flight numbers that shouldn’t be used in such cases from here on out. Similar cases of flight JL123 appearing on radars have occurred in the past, but the timing of this particular one made it stand out all the more.

While some wrote it off as an eerie coincidence, others weren’t willing to let JAL off the hook so easily.

“I get that someone just forgot about that number. But I still like to think those people are coming home for the holidays.”
“It has been a long time, but it’s still sad that people in the industry are forgetting that past.”
“During Obon too.”
“That gave me goosebumps!”

“Who is wasting their time watching Flight Radar 24 to catch this kind of thing?”
“I was in elementary school when that happened, now I’m in my fifties. Time changes fast and a lot of young people probably never heard of JL123.”
“JAL, out of everyone, should never forget that number.”
“It was probably the same kind of moron who chooses 01234567 as their password.”
“The victim’s families are still alive. Do they really think a simple ‘oops, we didn’t know’ is enough? I don’t know what would be worse, that they didn’t know, or that they knew and didn’t care.”

Although the official cause of the 1985 crash was deemed an improper repair on the part of Boeing, JAL was the target of a lot of ill-will in the aftermath of the accident. For some people, this current gaff clearly reopened those old wounds.

In their defense, however, this was likely done by a programmer who’s probably not as intimately connected to the aviation industry as workers in other facets of JAL’s operations.

That being said, choosing “0123” as a random number just doesn’t seem to adhere to best coding practices in any situation. All the software developers I know would have jumped at the chance to call it flight JL8008, and thus could have avoided this whole mess from the get-go.

NOTE: Corrections were made to information regarding the details of the crash. Thanks to Lissie Sheeley and Tosh Arciaga for pointing them out!

Source: J-Cast News, Hachima Kiko
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Insert image: Pakutaso
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