Probe begins into Japan Airlines collision as both pilots say they received go-ahead to use runway

Investigators are beginning to pick apart how a passenger plane was allowed to land on a runway leading to a fatal crash into a coastguard aircraft, ITV News' Neil Connery reports

Transport officials and police have begun separate investigations a day after a large passenger plane and a Japanese coast guard aircraft collided on the runway and burst into flames, killing five people.

The accident occurred on Tuesday evening at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport when the Japan Airlines flight JAL-516 plane was making its landing and it collided with a coast guard plane.

Both sides said they received a go-ahead from aviation officials. So, what do we know so far?

How the crash unfolded

The accident occurred on Tuesday evening when the large passenger plane and the smaller aircraft collided on the runway at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport and burst into flames.

The Japan Airlines A350 had flown from Shin Chitose airport near the northern Japanese city of Sapporo, and the coast guard Bombardier was preparing to depart for Niigata to deliver relief supplies to residents in the central Japan regions hit by powerful earthquakes on Monday that killed more than 60 people.

Passengers on the commercial flight said they feared for their lives, as the lights went out, smoke filled the cabin and the temperature began to rise.

But the cabin crew evacuated the plane, with all the people on board the Japan Airlines flight JAL-516 brought to safety.

The pilot of the coast guard plane, which exploded, was injured but managed to escape. The five crew members aboard were killed.

Firefighters gather around the burn-out Japanese coast guard aircraft. Credit: AP

Conflicting statements

Transport safety officials are focusing on communication between air traffic control officials and the two aircraft to determine what led to the collision.

It appears the two sides involved had different understandings of their permission to use the runway.

Japan Airlines (JAL) Managing Executive Officer Tadayuki Tsutsumi told a news conference late on Tuesday that the A350 was making a “normal entry and landing” on the runway.

Another JAL executive, Noriyuki Aoki, said the flight had received permission to land from aviation officials.

The air traffic officials gave the JAL airliner landing permission, while telling the coast guard pilot to wait before entering the runway, NHK television reported on Wednesday.

But the coast guard pilot said he also had been given permission to take off. The coast guard said officials were verifying that claim.

Air traffic control recording released

The Transport Ministry released a transcript of air traffic control communication of about four minutes and 27 seconds just before the crash.

It showed no clear takeoff approval for the coast guard plane.

According to the text, the Tokyo air control gave the JAL Airbus A350 permission to land on Runway C, noting that there is a departing plane, with the JAL pilot repeating the action.

The coast guard plane said it was taxiing to the same runway, and the traffic control instructs it to proceed to the stop line ahead of the runway.

The controller noted the coast guard gets the departure priority, and the pilot said he was moving to the stop line.

Their communication ends there. Two minutes later, there was a three-second pause, apparently indicating the time of the collision.

ITV News' Nick Wallis explains how passengers escaped the burning Japan Airlines Airbus A350 flight unscathed

What happens next?

Investigators plan to interview the pilots, officials as well as air traffic control officials to find out how the two planes simultaneously ended up on the runway, Japan Transport Safety Board said.

Haneda's three other runways reopened late on Tuesday, but some 100 flights have been cancelled due to the closure of the accident-hit runway.

The airport was packed on Wednesday as many holidaymakers wrapped up their New Year travel, including those who who survived the fire and spent the night at the airport or at nearby hotels, trying to change their flights.

Airbus said in a statement it was sending specialists to help Japanese and French officials investigating the accident, and that the plane was delivered to Japan Airlines in late 2021.

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