Fiery crash between two planes at Tokyo airport probed by Japanese officials

TOKYO — A day after a large passenger plane and a Japanese coast guard aircraft crashed on the runway and burst into flames, transport officials and police began separate investigations into the fatal collision at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport.  

The question for investigators. Why was the smaller coast guard aircraft — a Bombardier Dash-8 — on the same runway as the Japan Airlines Airbus A350 came in to land Tuesday?

“We have recovered the voice recorders and flight recorders for coast guard plane,” Takuya Fujiwara, a senior investigator with the Japan Transport Safety Board, told a news conference, adding that they were still looking for the black box from the other plane.

Police began a separate inquiry into possible professional negligence, the Kyodo News agency reported.

A spokesperson said that a team of officers were conducting interviews and investigating Runway 3-4 Right where the planes collided, according to Reuters. But they declined to comment on whether they were looking into possible professional negligence, Reuters reported.

A Japan Airlines plane burns on the runway of Haneda airport on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2024 in Tokyo.
A Japan Airlines plane burns on the runway Tuesday.Kyodo News via AP

All of the 379 passengers and crew members aboard Japan Airlines Flight 516 were evacuated after an orange fireball erupted from the aircraft and continued down the runway, spewing smoke following the collision.

But more than 24 hours after the crash, one of the passengers, William Manzione, said he could still “feel the adrenaline running.”

As the plane came down, he told the British broadcaster Sky News, “there was a huge impact.” (Sky News is owned by Comcast, the parent company of NBC News.)

“When I got off my seat, I started to see flames out the windows and then I realized this is not good,” he said. “When I saw the inflatable slide, I understood this was bad.”

Within 20 minutes, all of the passengers and crew members slid down emergency chutes and survived.

The pilot of the coast guard plane, which exploded, escaped with injuries but five crew members were killed.

Japan Airlines said in a news release Wednesday that the plane was given clearance to land right before the incident occurred. It added that the aircraft had not experienced any issues when it took off from the New Chitose Airport in the northern region of Hokkaido or during the flight.

Officials look at the burned wreckage of a Japan Airlines passenger plane on the tarmac at Tokyo International Airport at Haneda in Tokyo on Jan. 3, 2024, the morning after the JAL airliner hit a smaller coast guard plane on the ground.
Officials look at the burned wreckage Wednesday.Richard A. Brooks / AFP – Getty Images

Transcripts of traffic control instructions released by Japan’s Transport Ministry appeared to confirm that the plane had been given permission to land and that the coast guard aircraft had been told to taxi to a holding point near the runway.

The coast guard Bombardier was preparing to depart for Niigata to deliver relief supplies to residents in the central regions hit by powerful earthquakes Monday that killed more than 60 people.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters Wednesday that the airport fire won’t affect the aid delivery to the quake-hit zones.

“At the moment, various ministries are working together and have secured various routes,” he said. “I believe the accident at Haneda Airport has had no impact” on aid delivery.

As for Manzione, he said he was not aware of the extent of the situation and felt “astonished” when he heard another aircraft was involved.

“We realized we probably dodged a really big bullet,” he said.

Arata Yamamoto reported from Tokyo and Larissa Gao from Hong Kong.


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