I walk alone

by Andrea Elizabeth

My middle children’s video of their friend’s Winter Retreat’s New Years talent contribution of Pat Donahue’s silly rewrite of the song, “Sukiyaki”, to “Sushi Yucky”, inspired me to get back in touch with the only Japanese language song to hit #1 on the American music charts. This youtube rendition of the original Sukiyaki includes an English translation and information about the singer, Kyu Sakamoto.

From this I found out that he was a Japanese actor and singer, and that he “worked hard for young, old, and handicapped.” Then it gets really sad, as if the lyrics aren’t surprisingly sad enough given the peppiness of the music. “In 1985, Sakamoto was one of 520 killed in the crash of Japan airlines 123. Thirty-two minutes elapsed from the time the bulkhead failed to the time of the crash. Long enough for Sakamoto to scribble a shaky farewell to his wife.”

I don’t remember hearing about this crash, but I missed a lot during those years as I worked 3-11 shift and missed the news. Wikipedia gives even sadder details of the botched rescue after it talks about the technical reasons for the crash.

Delayed rescue operation

United States Air Force controllers at Yokota Air Force base situated near the flight path of Flight 123 had been monitoring the distressed aircraft’s calls for help. They maintained contact throughout the ordeal with Japanese flight control officials and made their landing strip available to the airplane. After losing track on radar, a U.S. Air Force C-130 from the 345 TAS was asked to search for the missing plane. The C-130 crew was the first to spot the crash site 20 minutes after impact, while it was still daylight. The crew radioed Yokota Air Base to alert them and directed an USAF Huey helicopter from Yokota to the crash site. Rescue teams were assembled in preparation to lower Marines down for rescues by helicopter tow line. The offers by American forces of help to guide Japanese forces immediately to the crash site and of rescue assistance were rejected by Japanese officials. Instead, Japanese government representatives ordered the U.S. crew to keep away from the crash site and return to Yokota Air Base, stating the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) were going to handle the entire rescue alone.

Although a JSDF helicopter eventually spotted the wreck during the night, poor visibility and the difficult mountainous terrain prevented it from landing at the site. The pilot of the JSDF helicopter reported from the air that there were no signs of survivors. Based on this report, JSDF ground personnel did not set out to the actual site the night of the crash. Instead, they were dispatched to spend the night at a makeshift village erecting tents, constructing helicopter landing ramps and in other preparations, all some 63 kilometers from the wreck. JSDF did not set out for the actual crash site until the following morning. Medical staff later found a number of passengers’ bodies whose injuries indicated that they had survived the crash only to die from shock or exposure overnight in the mountains while awaiting rescue.[5] One doctor said “If the discovery had come ten hours earlier, we could have found more survivors.” [12]

Yumi Ochiai, one of the four survivors out of 524 passengers and crew, recounted from her hospital bed that she recalled bright lights and the sound of helicopter rotors shortly after she awoke amid the wreckage, and while she could hear screaming and moaning from other survivors, these sounds gradually died away during the night.

May their memory be eternal.

In thinking about this and yesterday’s post about not caring anymore, firstly, I like the Orthodox habit of remembering the dead. It is not in a hopeless or angry way. One could get caught up in blaming those who could have prevented the crash and the rescue of more injured people, but I’d rather remember the departed and lend their cries and scared last minutes a listening ear. I want to learn to listen in silent understanding. I think that’s what victims need more than outrage and pity. I haven’t heard that the Theotokos berated the Romans or the Jews or demanded vengeance or a law suit. She silently witnessed what happened to her son and understood as much as she could what his life and death meant. One needs to understand how the Orthodox view Christ’s and others’ deaths to gain the right perspective and response.

About the song, it doesn’t seem all that self-pitying to me, but a brave attempt to not wallow in it and to seek understanding from the stars and the moon and the seasons.