Police probe possible negligence in Tokyo airport runway collision

Police probe possible negligence in Tokyo airport runway collision

TOKYO — Police are investigating whether a crash between an airliner and a smaller plane at a Tokyo airport may involve professional negligence, media reported on Wednesday, as transport authorities began inspecting the charred wreckage for clues.

All 379 people miraculously escaped the Japan Airlines (JAL) Airbus A350 which erupted into flames after colliding with a De Havilland Dash-8 Coast Guard turboprop shortly after landing at Haneda on Tuesday evening.

Five of the six Coast Guard crew, responding to a major earthquake that struck the country’s west coast, died.

Once a recurring safety problem, aviation experts say the number of such runway collisions or incursions have become far less frequent with modern ground tracking technology and procedures.

Japanese authorities say the cause of the crash remains unclear.

Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department are investigating whether possible professional negligence led to deaths and injuries, several news outlets including Kyodo news agency and Nikkei Asia reported.

A police spokesperson said a special unit had set up at the airport and was investigating the runway and planning to interview people involved, but declined to comment on whether they were looking into possible professional negligence.

“There’s a strong possibility there was a human error,” said Hiroyuki Kobayashi, a former JAL pilot and aviation analyst.

“Only one plane is generally allowed to enter the runway but even though landing clearance had been given, the Japan Coast Guard aircraft was on the runway.”

The JAL plane was told to continue its approach to runway 34R at 1743 local time (0843GMT), and was given clearance to land at 1745, two minutes before authorities say the collision occurred on the same runway at 1747, according to air traffic control recordings available at liveATC.net.

“Clear to land 34R Japan Airlines 516,” a controller can be heard saying in a recording.

Haneda airport did not immediately have comment on the recordings.

JAL said in a statement on Tuesday the aircraft recognized and repeated the landing permission from air traffic control before approaching and touching down.

The Coast Guard has declined to comment on the circumstances surrounding the crash, including why the plane was on the runway and whether it was stationary or moving when disaster struck.

The plane, one of six Coast Guard aircraft based at the airport, had been due to deliver aid to regions hit by a deadly earthquake on Monday.

As well as the police probe, the Japan Safety Transport Board (JTSB) is also investigating the crash, with participation from agencies in France, where the Airbus airplane was built, and Britain where its two Rolls-Royce engines were manufactured, people familiar with the matter said.

Airbus said it was also sending technical advisers to assist in the investigation.

JTSB has recovered flight and voice recorders from the coast guard aircraft, Kyodo news agency reported, citing the agency.

While all passengers and crew were evacuated around 20 minutes after the crash, the aircraft was completely engulfed in flames and burned for more than six hours, the airline said.

Authorities were set to begin work to remove the charred remains of the JAL aircraft in the afternoon, Kyodo reported, while TV footage showed police and fire department personnel inspecting the site of the accident on Wednesday. — Reuters