Critical Search for Voice Recorder Begins in Investigation of Tokyo Plane Collision

TOKYO (AP) — Transport safety officials in Tokyo are searching for a voice recorder from a Japan Airlines plane that collided with a small coast guard plane on the runway at Haneda airport. The focus of the investigation is to determine the cause of the collision. Meanwhile, JAL is working to remove debris from the site to reopen the runway.

A team of six experts from the Japan Transport Safety Board walked through the wreckage of the Airbus A350-900 that was lying on the runway. Their primary objective is to locate the voice data recorder, which could provide crucial information about the moments leading up to the fatal collision. So far, the JTSB experts have recovered the flight and voice data recorders from the coast guard’s Bombardier Dash-8, as well as the flight data recorder from the JAL plane.

On Tuesday, all 379 occupants of JAL Flight 516 were able to safely evacuate within 18 minutes of landing, despite the aircraft being engulfed in flames. The pilot of the coast guard plane also escaped, but unfortunately, five crew members did not survive.

New details have emerged from media footage at Haneda airport. NHK television reported that surveillance footage showed the coast guard plane on the runway for about 40 seconds before the collision occurred. According to the footage, the coast guard aircraft entered the runway from a taxiway, and moments later, the JAL passenger plane touched down and collided with it, resulting in a fiery explosion. The JAL plane, covered in flames and emitting gray smoke, eventually came to a stop.

A transcript of the recorded communication between the air traffic controller and the coast guard pilot has been released, shedding light on the sequence of events. The air traffic controller instructed the coast guard plane to taxi to a holding position before the runway, emphasizing its No. 1 departure priority. The coast guard pilot acknowledged the instruction and expressed gratitude for being given the top priority. However, there was no follow-up instruction allowing the coast guard plane to enter the runway.

The pilot of the coast guard plane informed police investigators that his aircraft was struck just as he was powering up the engines after receiving clearance to take off. The small lights on the coast guard plane and its brief stop on the runway may have made it less visible to the JAL pilots and air traffic control. Additionally, there is a possibility that air traffic control officials overlooked an unauthorized runway entry alert system while attending to other operations.

As part of the investigation, the JTSB plans to interview seven JAL cabin attendants to gather their accounts of the incident. Airbus officials, as the aircraft manufacturer, are also participating in the investigation, in accordance with international aviation safety regulations.

In summary, transport safety officials in Tokyo are actively searching for a voice recorder to determine the cause of the collision between a Japan Airlines plane and a coast guard plane at Haneda airport. The investigation includes analyzing surveillance footage, examining the communication transcript between the air traffic controller and the coast guard pilot, and conducting interviews with cabin attendants. Airbus officials are also involved in the investigation.