The Guardian

Japan investigates plane hell after 'miracle' escape

Japanese law enforcement authorities on Wednesday investigated the collision between a Japan Coast Guard aircraft and a passenger plane at Tokyo's Haneda Airport, killing five people and leaving about 400 others narrowly escaping the fiery inferno.

All but one of the six people on board the small plane died, but all 379 passengers and crew on board the Japan Airlines were evacuated from an emergency slide minutes before the Airbus was engulfed in flames late Tuesday.

The jet's blackened hull, still on the tarmac Wednesday, was proof of how dangerous their escape was. A few hundred meters (yards) away lay the wreckage of a Coast Guard DHC-8 aircraft.

The captain of a Japan Coast Guard plane heading to the New Year's Day earthquake zone in central Japan was the only survivor but was seriously injured.

Footage from Tuesday showed a fireball erupting from below as the plane came to a halt shortly after landing, with its nose gear failing and coming to rest on its nose.

As people evacuated to safety, dozens of fire trucks with flashing blue and red lights burst into flames, but the entire plane was soon ablaze.

It took eight hours to finally extinguish the fire.

One passenger told NHK, “It got so hot inside the plane that I honestly didn't think I could survive.''

“I thought it was a normal landing. But then I noticed that I could smell smoke,” a woman with a small child told NHK.

“I needed to protect my daughter. That was the only thing on my mind,” she added.

Another passenger described surviving the accident as a “miracle”.

“I bounced off the seat due to the impact of landing,” the 28-year-old man told Nikkei Asia.

“We made it at the last minute. It's a miracle we survived.”

– Landing permission –
Takuya Fujiwara of the Japan Transport Safety Board told reporters that the Japan Coast Guard plane's flight recorder and voice recorder had been recovered, but the passenger plane's was still being searched.

“We are investigating the situation. Various parts are scattered on the runway,” Fujiwara said, adding that authorities plan to interview several people involved.

When asked at a press conference whether the Japan Airlines flight had been given permission to land, a major airline official said, “We understand that permission was given.''

However, JAL and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism declined to comment directly on the interaction between the two planes and air traffic controllers, citing the ongoing investigation.

Local media reported that the Ministry of Transport released records of the communications of air traffic controllers who authorized the JAL flight to land while directing the Coast Guard plane to a location near the runway.

In a recording from Haneda's control tower that appears to have been made just before the collision and published on a website that broadcasts live air signals, a voice can be heard advising the JAL flight to “continue the approach.”

NHK reported that the control tower instructed the Japan Coast Guard aircraft to wait in front of the runway.

However, the broadcast also quoted an anonymous Japan Coast Guard official as saying that the pilot, Genki Miyamoto (39), had received permission to take off immediately after the accident.

– Airbus Investigator –
Dozens of domestic flights were canceled Wednesday from Haneda, one of the world's busiest airports, but international flights were largely unaffected.

Airbus said it would send a team of experts to assist with the investigation.

The plane arrived from New Chitose Airport, bound for Sapporo on the northern island of Hokkaido. Eight children were also among the passengers.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida praised the coast guard officers who died en route to rescue victims of the earthquake that killed at least 64 people.

“These employees had a strong sense of mission and responsibility for the disaster-stricken areas,” he said on Tuesday.

In 1985, a JAL jumbo jet from Tokyo to Osaka crashed, killing 520 passengers and crew, making it one of the world's deadliest accidents involving a single flight.

The world's worst civil aviation disaster occurred in 1977 when two Boeing 747 planes collided at Tenerife's Los Rodeos Airport, killing 583 people.

“We can't speculate about what happened here, but it will probably turn out to be human error,” Central Queensland University aviation expert Doug Drury told AFP. Ta.

“Airlines are required to empty the plane of all passengers and crew members within 90 seconds. Flight crews very often train for events in simulation, and as we have seen , it is a complex process, but it has definitely been completed,” he said.

“The important factor here is that no one tried to grab the carry-on baggage.”


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