Japan investigators probe conflicting reports on fiery Tokyo crash

Japan investigators probe conflicting reports on fiery Tokyo crash

Japanese investigators on Wednesday probed a near-catastrophic collision at Tokyo's Haneda Airport between a coast guard plane and a passenger jet, with conflicting reports about what instructions air traffic control gave.

Airliner on fire on runway at Tokyo's Haneda airport
X (Formerly Twitter)

All but one of the six people on the coast guard aircraft died, but all 379 passengers and crew escaped to safety down emergency slides minutes before the Japan Airlines Airbus was engulfed in flames late Tuesday.

The blackened husk of the airliner, still sitting on the tarmac Wednesday, bore witness to just how narrow their escape had been. Several hundred metres (yards) away lay the remains of the coast guard's DHC-8 aircraft.

The captain of the coast guard plane -- which had been bound for the New Year's Day earthquake zone in central Japan -- was its lone survivor but suffered serious injuries.

Footage on Tuesday showed a ball of fire erupting and thick black smoke billowing from underneath the airliner shortly after landing and coming to a halt on its nose after its front landing gear failed.

Passengers could be seen sliding down inflatable slides as flames shot out from the rear of the aircraft in video posted to social media platform X.

As the plane was evacuated, dozens of fire engines with blue and red flashing lights tried to douse the flames, but the entire aircraft was soon engulfed and it took eight hours to finally extinguish the blaze.

"As soon as we landed, there was a bang. And I noticed a blaze rising from the right side," a female passenger on board told broadcaster NHK.

"It was getting hot inside the plane, and I thought, to be honest, I would not survive."

"I thought we landed normally. But then I realised I was smelling smoke. I looked outside and it was already burning," a woman with a small child told NHK.

"I needed to protect my daughter. That was the only thing in my mind."

- Landing clearance -

Government officials pledged to investigate how the incident happened in a country that had not seen a serious commercial aviation accident for decades.

Asked at a briefing late Tuesday night whether the Japan Airlines flight had landing permission, officials at the major carrier said: "Our understanding is that it was given."

But JAL and the land ministry declined to comment directly on exchanges between flight controllers and the two planes, citing the ongoing investigation.

In a recording from Haneda's control tower apparently made in the moments before the collision, available on a site that broadcasts live air traffic signals, a voice can be heard advising JAL's flight to "continue approach".

NHK reported that the control tower had instructed the coast guard plane to hold short of the runway.

But the broadcaster also quoted an unnamed coast guard official as saying that the pilot, Genki Miyamoto, 39, said immediately after the accident that he had permission to take off.

- Airbus investigators -

Dozens of domestic flights were cancelled on Wednesday from Haneda, one of the world's busiest airports, but international arrivals and departures were little affected.

France's Airbus, which manufactured the JAL plane, said it would send a team of specialists to help Japanese authorities investigate.

The passenger plane had arrived from New Chitose Airport serving Sapporo on the northern island of Hokkaido. Those on board included eight children.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida praised the deceased crew members on their way to help the victims of the quake that killed at least 62 people.

"These were employees who had a high sense of mission and responsibility for the affected areas," he said Tuesday.

In 1985, a JAL jumbo jet flying from Tokyo to Osaka crashed in central Gunma region, killing 520 passengers and crew.

That disaster was one of the world's deadliest plane crashes involving a single flight.

The world's worst civil aviation disaster also happened on the ground when two Boeing 747s collided at Los Rodeos Airport in Tenerife in 1977, killing 583 people.

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