TOKYO -- Government investigators today blamed Japan Air Lines' poor medical examination system for allowing a schizophrenic pilot to remain on duty, causing a plane crash in Tokyo Bay last year that killed 24 passengers.
A 246-page Transport Ministry study said the pilot of a JAL DC-8 that plunged into the bay Feb. 9, 1982, was suffering hallucinations before the crash.
The captain, Seiji Katagiri, 36, had been deemed fit for duty by company doctors three months earlier although he had a history of mental illness, the report said. The airlines last week dismissed Katagiri.
The report, prepared by the Transport Ministry's Air Accidents Investigative Committee, called the accident 'not unavoidable.' Twenty-four passengers died in the crash and 149 other people were injured.
JAL president Yasumoto Takagi, asked by reporters if he would accept responsibility for the crash and resign, said: 'My job is to build a system to keep such mishaps from occurring again.'
Police have questioned six airline officials and JAL physicians in recent weeks, and sources familiar with the investigation said involuntary manslaughter charges might be filed against them.
The government report said Katagiri, who had suffered from 'paranoid schizophrenia' since 1976, apparently began hallucinating while piloting the DC-8 on a domestic flight.
Just six seconds before the jetliner was to touch down at Tokyo's Haneda International Airport, he threw his No. 2 and No. 3 engines into reverse, the report said.
The plane carrying 166 passengers and eight crew members crashed into Tokyo Bay about 350 yards short of the runway.
The government report on the accident criticized JAL's system of examining the physical and mental condition of its flight crews.
It said Katagiri received medical treatment twice between 1980 and the end of 1981, and was diagnosed as a psychosomatic or melancholia case.
Airline physicians erroneously concluded in November 1981 he had recovered sufficiently to resume flight duties, the report said.
The document also said Katagiri's wife and colleagues covered up the pilot's abnormal behavior, making it harder for JAL doctors to diagnose his mental illness.
Additionally, it noted that JAL's infirmary lacked qualified mental specialists.