Wednesday, January 11, 2012

American Fighter Plane Crashes into Kyushu University!

A couple of years ago I had a conversation with Ena`s uncle about Kyushu University. He had been a student here in the 1960s, which I thought was kind of an interesting coincidence.

The fact that Hakozaki campus is located right under the approach to Fukuoka airport at one point made its way into the conversation. Boeing 747s and other aircraft are only a couple hundred metres overhead when they fly above the campus, which makes it quite noisy.

While talking about that he mentioned something that piqued my interest. During his days as a student a plane had actually crashed on campus. A military plane, an F4 Phantom, flew right into a building.

I was interested in learning more about the incident, but ended up forgetting about it until a couple of days ago when I bought this book:

Kyushu University celebrated its 100th anniversary last year and the published this photographic history of the University. I thought it was kind of neat so I bought a copy at the Coop.

The book has a couple of pages devoted to the crash, which it turns out was a pretty big event in the University`s history. It occurred on June 2, 1968 when the Phantom crashed into this building:
Both of the pilots ejected safely and nobody was in the building at the time so fortunately nobody was hurt in the incident.

I did a bit of further research online about it. There isn`t anything in English, but the Japanese Wikipedia has an article about it here. There is a bit of a Cold War background to the incident. In January of 1968 North Korea seized an American spy ship, the USS Pueblo along with her crew. As part of their response to this incident the US moved a number of its aircraft, including the one that crashed into campus, from Okinawa to Fukuoka (which is much closer to North Korea and the Sea of Japan).

Anyway, after reading all of this I became a bit curious about where exactly on campus this plane had crashed. The building it hit, which was under construction at the time, was called the 九州大学大型計算機センター. This roughly translates as Kyushu University Large Model Computing Device Center Building. I looked at the campus map but couldn`t find anything of that name.

The picture of the building itself wasn`t very helpful either. It just looks like a big ugly concrete box, which is what ninety percent of the buildings on campus look like:
The above picture did at least have some other buildings in the photo to work with though. I decided to bring it with me and zip around campus on my bike during my lunch break yesterday to try to find them.
It actually didn`t take me that long. The building in the upper right hand corner of the photo is the architecture building here:
I`ve always found it amusing that the architecture faculty of one of Japan`s top national universities is housed in perhaps the ugliest building ever created by human hands, but that is another story.

Anyway, the building visible just to the left of the crash site is this one here:
Identifying the two of them allowed me to triangulate the position of the crash site as being this building here:
This is the Research Institute for Information Technology. They must have renamed it since the crash. They also seem to have expanded it as it looks bigger than the building under construction in the photo.

Anyway, forty four years ago this building actually had the tail end of an F4 Phantom sticking out of it. I think it looked better with the wreckage still in it, and as it turns out so did a lot of students at the time, albeit for different reasons. For me the charm mainly lay in the fact that you see so few university buildings with F4 tail fins sticking out the side that it would be just kind of a nice thing to have preserved.

For the students back then though it was all political. Thousands of them took to the streets in the days after the incident to protest against all that stuff that used to get the young folks riled up back in the 60s. One of their demands was that the wreckage be left in place. They wanted this to serve as an anti-war symbol. That really doesn`t make much sense seeing as this event didn`t occur in a war and nobody was actually hurt in the incident. It is not exactly the sort of thing that stirs people`s pashions like the monuments in Hiroshima or Nagasaki do. Perhaps the commemorative plaque would have read:

On this spot in 1968 an American warplane`s senseless action led to the loss over 100 hours worth of drywall work, 40 hours of electrical installation work and an unknown quantity of linoleum. Lest we forget.

At any rate, barricades went up and they were able to actually prevent anyone from removing the wreckage for about 6 months. Eventually some workers snuck in at night with a bulldozer and yanked it out when everybody was....doing whatever radical 60s students in Japan did at night.

Anyway, I thought this was rather neat. I love my new Kyushu University picture book, its full of interesting stuff like this. If only I had the time to explore them all.


Just found out a little more information about the crash from, of all places, a website that tracks ejections from jets. The Japanese sources (including my beloved Kyudai picture book) didn`t have any information about who was actually flying the aircraft or what they were doing, so that site was able to fill in a couple of blanks in the story. It seems that the pilots, Major E.E. Johnson and Lt. Col. R.F. Crutchlow, were undergoing night time take off and landing training when the F4 caught fire on approach to Fukuoka airport. They seem to have ejected just seconds before it hit (their parachutes landed just a few metres from the crash site), must have been quite the close call for them.


Anonymous said...

Interesting story. The airport was shared with the USAF until around 1972 which is why the F4 was landing there. I was called Itazuke AFB.

Sean said...

Interesting! Now it seems to also house a JSDF base as I often see Japanese military planes coming in for a landing!

Anonymous said...

Hey Sean,
I accidentally came across your blog the other day and I've been reading with interest- really appreciate the amazing amount of detail and research into your posts.
Living here for 8 years in Fukuoka I have probably zipped by all of the buildings you've mentioned a million times without ever considering their historical meaning, so you could say I've been a bit of a curious student of your blog for a while now.
Anyway I was wondering, is your curiousity limited only to architectural constructs or do you ever go out into the wilder parts around Fukuoka, ie the great outdoors?

Personally for me I find mountaineering reveals a great source of the local history and gives a better taste of ol' Japan more than most of the man-made stuff you seem so fascinated by. A lot of the mountains were used as the defence battlements against the Mongolian invasion, and great rival clan battles were fought there on the peaks during the Heian Period and such. There's a real amalgamation of history up there that might pique your interest. Not to mention the weird; Want to see giant untamed wild boars running around freely? Go to Abura-Yama carpark at dusk. Hidden shrines and a deer reserve? Houmanzan. Giant moths? Nokonoshima ascent. It's not everyone's cup of tea, but if you're looking for some rewarding exercise and some great photo-taking opportunities of places with significant historical influence many of these places are quite accesible by bus or train.

Sean said...


Thanks for the nice comment!

Actually I do love hiking and history too. Recently I`ve been so busy that I unfortunately don`t get much of a chance to head out to the countryside, but in 2009 and 2010 I think most of the posts on here were about hiking trips to places like Sasaguri, Shikanoshima, Aburayama, etc etc. Its mostly in the past year and a half or so that the subject matter of this blog has become more urban, mainly because I`ve only had time to photograph my immediate surroundings!

I absolutely agree, the hiking here is great. Its one of the things I like most about Fukuoka actually, the fact that the city has such nice nature in close proximity. A friend who just moved to Tokyo says that is his main disappointment with living there, you can cycle for hours and hours without reaching the end of the city and beginning of the mountains.

I`m also quite interested in history. I spent five years living in the Kansai region and used to love exploring the old temples, shrines, castle ruins, etc that are up there so I was quite interested in that when I came to Fukuoka too. I agree, there is a ton of interesting stuff to discover around here. My favorite was discovering the 88 temple route in Sasaguri by accident as I was cycling by. I`ve since made several trips back in an attempt to visit all 88, but I`m only up to about 20 so far.

Hopefully I`ll be able to squeeze in at least a couple of day trips this year when the warm weather comes!

Unknown said...


Interesting story, and nice detective work. Planning on trying out for the Fukuoka CSI?

Still love the yellow bike. The red backpack does clash a bit. Lance would not be impressed :D

Sean said...

Thanks Andrew,

The red and yellow do indeed clash. Color blindness runs in the family you know.

Anonymous said...

Very odd, I was just googling this crash and came across your blog, as my grandfather was the Pilot, Colonel Russell F. Crutchlow. He would tell us some details, and we still have all the newspaper clippings from when this happened. It was definitely a harrowing experience for him. He saw the construction and when he ran out of all options he just hoped that the building was empty as it looked. Thanks for sharing pictures of what it ultimately became.

Lindsey M.

Anonymous said...

Colonel Crutchlow is my grandfather. He always told us about this story growing up. Basically, he picked up his parachute and walked calmly back to the base.

Sean said...

Hi Lindsey,

Thanks for the comment! It is very interesting to hear from a family member of one of the pilots. It must have been an incredibly terrifying experience for him, but his instincts were quite good and he probably saved a lot of lives by guiding it into this building. When I was a kid I lived for a few years on an Air Force base in Germany and I remember one pilot doing something similar to steer the plane away from a crowded building just before the crash.

BTW I would be very interested to see some of those clippings if you have any scans of them! said...

I was stationed at Itazuke Air Base when the crash happened. There were large demonstrations at the air base by Kyushu University students. At the time, Kyushu University was the Berkely of Japan. Over 1,000 Japanes riot police were assigned to protect the entrance to the air base. Seeing the picture of the plan was brought back memories of the event. We went to the university and saw the plane hanging just like in the picture.

Sean said...

Thanks for the comment, marty. That is quite interesting, I had no idea the event sparked such a strong protest movement among the students. These days I doubt it would cause such upset (Japanese SDF aircraft still fly overhead along with the regular Fukuoka airport traffic), certainly not to the extent of needing riot police!

Anonymous said...

You can try this link for some old news reel video of the destruction from the plane crash.|v3|s99

Anonymous said...

I was at Itazuki when we pulled the aircraft out 0f the building in the middle of the night. Most of the demonstrations had long since stopped and only a couple of students who were watching over the crash site was asleep and didn't really realize what had happened until the plane was on the truck and leaving the university. The wreckage arrived at the base just before daybreak and shortly after 6AM the demonstrators gathered in mass at the Main Gate. It went on for several days. In the meantime we spread the wreckage out in the hangar floor and I assisted in the accident investigation. We identified the problem as the engine fire warning lights were wired incorrectly. When the aircrew responded to the engine fire warning they shut down the left engine. Shortly after that they experienced a fire indication on the right engine. Our investigation revealed that the reversed wiring caused the pilot to shut down the wrong engine. When the 2nd fire light came on the real fire on the right engine had burned through the firewall between the two engines. The Crew had a real emergency at that point and had to eject. An interesting side story that had caused the U.S. to delay the resolution of the crash with the Japanese was that we were able to clandestinely remove the classified black boxes from the aircraft right under the noses of the demonstrators. Once we had that equipment there wasn't any urgency to negotiate any settlement. We were able to accomplish that one of our guys, a Japanese American who blended in with the demonstrators and over several days removed the equipment and snuck it out in darkness.

Anonymous said...

Was searching for something else and ran across this article. The WSO of this aircraft, Ernie Johnson, was my one of my best friend's dad (when I lived in Ralson, NE in 1965/66) My dad and Ernie were stationed together at Offutt AFB and lived around the corner from us. My friend's name was Brett Johnson. I've been trying to find him for years...small world. Ernie Johnson passed away I believe in the 80s or 90s.

Maethelwine said...

Did you leave off blogging entirely, or move your blog elsewhere? At any rate, thanks for what you've got here. I've enjoyed looking at it.

Sean said...

I basically stopped cold turkey, I left Fukuoka about 3 years ago and decided to hang up the blogging hat!

Captain Gabe said...

The aircraft in question belonged to the 15th TAC Recon squadron based at Kadena AFB at the time. My father flew with Ernie Johnson in the 15th, and Ernie told him what happened. The crash was a comedy of errors. (Both men were navigators.)

On approach, the crew observed a fire warning light illuminate for one engine. Not a big deal as the F-4 procedure for this is to simply shut down that engine. When they did this the aircraft fell out of the sky and crashed. Colonel Crutchlow parachuted down near a Japanese police station. He rolled up his chute and walked in to ask for help. Ernie was less fortunate in landing on campus. The students began a war dance around him so he barricaded himself in a phone booth. However, he didn't have any yen so he couldn't call the police for help. After a while, a sympathetic student slipped him some yen and the police came to get him.

As you noted, the wreckage was guarded day and night by students as a symbol. This created a few problems. The building contractor, and the university, wanted the wreckage out so they could finish the building. The USAF wanted it out for accident evaluation. The engine manufacturer, General Electric, wanted it out so they could examine the engines. You see, for lack of information, the Air Force had termed it a "dual engine failure" and GE was not about to accept that black eye.

Dad was on-base in Japan when the wreckage miraculously appeared on the back of a truck one morning. He said the story was that, overnight, a group of masked men had driven up to the wreck with the truck, drove off the students with pick axe handles, and hauled the wreckage down. Later, it turned out that the masked men had been a contingent of Japanese Police and USAF Air Police.

The accident investigation discovered that the fire warning indicator lamps had been wired backwards. So, when the crew shut down the engine on fire, they'd actually shut down their good engine. (A few years after this incident "Air Force Flying Safety" magazine reported another crash for the same reason.)

My dad's nickname for Ernie was "Hard Luck Ernie" because he was like the character from Little Abner who always had a rain cloud over his head. After the crash in Japan Ernie was involved in another crash at Kadena. When making a flaps-up takeoff, which is allowed in the F-4, the aircraft stalled and fell to earth. Ejection was initiated but they were on decent by then and Ernie's pilot didn't survive. Ernie, himself, said he only got one swing in his parachute before hitting the ground. (The back seater leaves first in an ejection.)

Subsequently, while TDY to South Korea, Ernie made a navigational error, ended up flying into North Korea, and was grounded again. The last we heard of Ernie was that he was flying again but that he had just run over a bicyclist coming back from the Officers Club in his car.

My dad is still around. In fact, he's the one who found your blog and sent it to me. If you have any questions, I'm sure he'd get a kick out of talking you directly about this. He loves to talk about his old flying days!

Sean said...

Wow, thanks a lot for the interesting and detailed back story, that certainly is a comedy of errors! I do love that detail about Ernie getting stuck in a phone booth without any change to make a call!

I wrote this post about 5 years ago, but there is one recent update that I found out about just the other day (I no longer live in Fukuoka but get news from friends there) - the building into which the plane crashed was demolished a couple of months ago. In fact the entire university campus is being systematically torn down and will be abandoned by next year since they have built an entirely new campus way on the other end of town that they are moving the university to. I believe they are going to be building a park and some commercial space on the empty land.

Its kind of sad that the last physical reminder of this little story in US-Japan relations is no more, but I'm glad that this post has become a kind of public record of it, with invaluable details like the ones you provided.

Captain Gabe said...

Seems form really followed function for those old buildings. Japan was probably still trying to recover from the war back then. Just needed a place to get the job one.

It's great to get the details from the other poster on the firewall burn through. I always wondered how shutting down the good engine would immediately cause total loss of power. Seems it didn't. An engine on fire is still producing thrust for a while.

My dad just added some details on Ernie's crash at Kadena. A no-flaps takeoff changes airflow over the tail. In this case, resulting in over-rotation and the aircraft becoming airborne out of control. The elevators struck the ground and he said he examined one of them and could see the damage from the runway. Also, after his one swing in the chute, Ernie actually landed on his butt with minor injuries.