Japan investigates near-tragic collision after Coast Guard plane disregards air traffic control at Haneda

Japanese authorities released the transcript of communications of Haneda Air Traffic Control a few minutes before the passenger jet collided with a Coast Guard turboprop at a Tokyo airport. Coast Guard aircraft received clear instructions to hold at a holding point at runway 34R, and pilots confirmed these instructions. While Japan Airlines (JAL) Airbus A350 was cleared to land at runway 34R. Following the collision occurred, the cabin crew managed to evacuate all 379 souls on board after it erupted in flames following the crash. However, five died among the six Coast Guard crew members who were due to depart on a flight responding to a major earthquake on Japan's west coast. The captain, who escaped the wreckage, was badly injured.


The Japan Safety Transport Board (JTSB) is investigating the accident, with participation from agencies in France, Britain, and Canada. The JTSB has recovered the voice recorder from the coast guard aircraft, and Tokyo police are investigating whether possible professional negligence led to deaths and injuries. Police have set up an investigation unit at the airport and plan to interview those involved, but they declined to say whether they were examining any suggestions of negligence.

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Parallel air crash investigations have raised concerns over tensions between civil safety investigations, which rely on open discussion of errors to improve safety, and police-led inquiries, which are designed to apportion blame. Aviation analyst Hiroyuki Kobayashi believes there is a strong possibility there was a human error in the accident. A notice to pilots in force before the accident suggested that a strip of stop lights embedded in the tarmac as an extra safety measure to prevent wrong turns was out of service.


JAL said the aircraft recognized and repeated the landing permission from air traffic control before approaching and touching down. All passengers and crew were evacuated within 20 minutes of the crash, but the aircraft, engulfed in flames, burned for more than six hours. The Coast Guard aircraft, one of six based at the airport, had been due to transport aid to regions hit by Monday's magnitude 7.6 earthquake that killed 64 people. The accident forced the cancellation of 137 domestic and four international flights on Wednesday, and emergency flights and high-speed rail services were requested to ease congestion. Michael Daniel, a former U.S. accident investigator, said investigators will be looking to make recommendations.

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