Landing Before Takeoff...
Kohei Asoh, a 15 year veteran with Japan Air Lines, had served as a flight instructor for the Japanese military in World War II, and had nearly 10,000 hours of flight time - well deserving of his title of "Captain." He was experienced enough to be given the assignment of flying one of JAL's newest acquisitions - a Douglas DC-8, registered as JA8032, which had rolled off the Douglas assembly line in May of 1968, and had been in service with JAL for only six months.
The DC-8, named "Shiga" by the airline, took off from Tokyo at 5:36 on the afternoon of November 22nd, 1968, bound non-stop for San Francisco (SFO). Powered by four Pratt & Whitney JT3D-3B, the eight hour flight would cross the International Date Line, so accounting for time zones and flight time, the flight was scheduled to land nearly seven hours before it took off.
As Captain Asoh, and his flight crew, first officer Joseph Hazen, flight Engineer Richard Fahning, and navigator Ichiryo Suzuki, were approaching SFO at approximately 9 AM, where the weather was reported to be "ceiling indefinite, 300 feet overcast, sky partially obscured, 3/4 mile visibility with fog". The airport's minimums at the time were, 200 feet ceiling and 1/2 mile visibility. Normal communications were established, and the crew was radar vectored to the Woodside VOR and thence to intercept the ILS for Runway 28L at San Francisco.
The cabin crew, consisting of a purser, two stewards, and four stewardesses, prepared the passengers for landing as the plane crossed the Woodside VOR at 9:16 AM at approximately 4,000 feet and, at 9:18 AM, was cleared to descend to 2,000 feet . The flight then descended at a constant, uninterrupted rate towards the airport, lined up on the localizer approach course.
The landing gear was lowered and flaps fully extended. When they broke out below the fog, the first officer called, "Breaking out of the overcast, I cannot see the runway light ." He then called out, 'We are too low - Pull up, pull up!"
Asoh applied power to the engines, and started to rotate the aircraft when water contact was made. At a speed of 137 knots, the right main gear hit the water first, followed immediately by the left gear striking. Then, the airplane reportedly made a slow turn to the left, and settled in the shallow waters two and a half miles short of runway 28L, at 9:24 in the morning.
County Park Ranger Doug Lakey was in the Coyote Point parking lot when the plane splashed into the bay. He heard it and immediately notified Harbormaster Art O'Leary who hurried three boats to the plane within minutes. Fire tugs also rushed to the scene to help prevent fire in case jet fuel ignited from a spark.Amazingly, there were no injuries to any of the 96 passengers or 11 crew during the accident and ensuing evacuation.
Two days after the crash, crews from Bigge Drayage Co. and Air International Recovery hoisted the plane out of the water with large floating cranes and placed the plane on a large barge. As soon as the plane was out of the brackish water of San Francisco Bay, some 55 hours after splashdown, salvage crews started washing down the plane with fresh water to help prevent corrosion. The plane was then taken by barge to United Airline's maintenance base at SFO.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the captain said he was making a coupled approach, but because of problems with his pressure altimeter, he was relying on the more accurate radio altimeter for verification of altitude. The captain looked up expecting to be 200 feet above the water but instead was nearly in the water. He applied power but it was too late. The captain did not cross-check the raw data glide-slope signals and did not realize the ILS on-course position was far above where he was.
As a result, Japan Air Lines changed their training procedures to stress command responsibilities, crew coordination and transition time for new type of aircraft. Asho was assigned to ground operations in Tokyo as a routine retraining measure, and demoted to co-pilot........
......She Flys Again...
Repairs were carried out by United Air Lines on the "Shiga", and it was returned to JAL on March 31, 1969, and along with a $4 million invoice for over 52,000 man-hours of labor. JAL renamed the aircraft from 'Shiga' to 'Hidaka', and after a successful test flight on April 11, 1969, from San Francisco to Honolulu, the plane went back into regular service with JAL.
The plane continued to fly for Japan Airlines for 14 more years until it was sold in March 1983 to Air ABC and reregistered as TF-BBF. In May of 1983 the plane was leased to Hamzair until December 1983 when it was returned to Air ABC. In July of 1984 it was sold to Okada Air of Nigeria and reregistered as 5N-AON. A few years later, in April of 1987 the plane was purchased by Airborne Express and reregistered as N808AX. After a second career as a express freighter for Airborne Express, years of fatigue crack caught up with the DC-8, and in December of 2001, it met its demise on the ramp at Wilmington (ILN) at the mercy of the salvage crews' hydraulic claws.