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Today: March 05, 2024

Japanese safety experts search for voice data as workers clear plane debris from runway collision

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Japanese safety experts search for voice data as workers clear plane debris from runway collision
AP
MARI YAMAGUCHI
January 05, 2024

Transport safety officials searched for a voice recorder from the severely burned fuselage of a Japan Airlines plane, seeking crucial information on what caused a collision with a small coast guard plane on the runway at Tokyo's Haneda airport.

On Saturday, heavy machinery worked for a second day to remove debris of the burned Airbus A350 for storage in a hangar to allow the runway to reopen. Transport Minister Tetsuo Saito said officials were aiming to reopen the runway Monday. Wreckage of the Japan Coast Guard plane had been cleared.

Saito said the airport's traffic control operation would create a new position for monitoring aircraft movement on runways beginning Saturday. There has been speculation traffic controllers might not have paid attention to the coast guard plane's presence on the runway when they gave the JAL plane permission to land.

Six experts from the Japan Transport Safety Board on Friday walked through the mangled debris of the Airbus A350-900 that was lying on the runway searching for the voice data recorder.

JTSB experts have so far secured both the flight and voice data recorders from the coast guard’s Bombardier Dash-8 and a flight data recorder from the JAL plane to find out what happened in the last few minutes before Tuesday's fatal collision.

All 379 occupants of JAL Flight 516 safely evacuated within 18 minutes of landing as the aircraft was engulfed in flames. The pilot of the coast guard plane also escaped, but its five other crewmembers died. The coast guard aircraft was on a mission to deliver relief goods to survivors of powerful earthquakes in central Japan that killed at least 100 people.

New details have also emerged from media footage at Haneda airport. NHK television reported footage from its monitoring camera set up at the Haneda airport showed that the coast guard plane moved onto the runway and stopped there for about 40 seconds before the collision.

In the footage, the coast guard aircraft is seen entering the runway from the C5 taxiway, then shortly after the passenger plane touches down right behind and rams into it, creating an orange fireball. The JAL airliner, covered with flames and spewing gray smoke, continues down the runway before coming to a stop.

Transcript of the recorded communication at the traffic control, released by the transport ministry Wednesday, showed that the air traffic controller told the coast guard plane to taxi to a holding position just before the runway, noting its No. 1 departure priority. The coast guard pilot repeats the instruction, then offers thanks for the No. 1 slot. There was no further instruction from the control allowing the coast guard to enter the runway.

The pilot told police investigators that his aircraft was struck just as he powered up the engines after obtaining clearance to take off.

The small lights on the coast guard aircraft and its 40-second stop might have made it less visible to the JAL pilots and air traffic control. NHK also said that air traffic control officials may have missed an alert system for unauthorized runway entry while engaging in other operations.

The JTSB investigators on Friday planned to interview seven JAL cabin attendants to get their accounts, after their similar interviews with the three pilots and two other attendants the day before.

A team from the aircraft manufacturer, Airbus, was also joining the investigation, a requirement under international aviation safety rules, according to the board.

Aviation safety authorities from France, home to Airbus' main management, and Canada, where the maker of Bombardier planes is based, were to cooperate in the investigation. Experts from the U.S. National Transport Board were to provide help with A350’s Honeywell-made flight and voice data recorders.

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This story corrects the type of aircraft to A350 instead of A320, in the second and last paragraph.

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