Jan 3, 2024 - World

Probe into fatal Tokyo runway crash focuses on air traffic communications

The remains of a Japan Airlines plane that caught fire after striking a Japan Coast Guard aircraft on Dec. 2.

The remains of a Japan Airlines plane that caught fire after striking a Japan Coast Guard aircraft on Dec. 2. Photo: Kosuke Okahara/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Investigators probing Tuesday's fatal crash on a Tokyo runway between a Japan Airlines plane and a Japan Coast Guard aircraft are focusing on communications between air traffic control and the two planes, AP reports.

The big picture: All 379 passengers and crew of Japan Airlines flight 516 were able to escape the plane before it became engulfed in flames. The pilot of the coast guard aircraft, which exploded after the collision, sustained injuries but was rescued, while the five remaining crew members were killed.

  • The coast guard plane had been en route to deliver relief to residents in Niigata, which was one of several cities affected by the 7.6-magnitude earthquake that hit western Japan on Monday and killed at least 62 people across the country.
  • The Japan Airlines plane, an Airbus A350, had been coming from New Chitose Airport, near Sapporo in the north.

Details: Japan's Ministry of Transportation on Wednesday released a transcript of communications between Tokyo air traffic control and the two planes minutes before the crash, according to AP.

  • The transcript indicates that air control gave the Japan Airlines plane permission to land on Runway C of Tokyo's Haneda Airport but noted that there was a departing plane on the same runway.
  • The coast guard plane then reported it was taxiing to the same runway, and control directed it to go to the stop line ahead of the runway and said it would have departure priority. The pilot confirmed he was moving to the stop line, and the communications stopped there.
  • A three-second pause occurred around two minutes later, likely indicating the collision, per AP.

The big picture: The crash happened just weeks after the U.S.-based Flight Safety Foundation called for global action to prevent runway incursions, which occur any time an aircraft is on a runway when it's not supposed to be.

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