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Tragedy Unfolds at Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport as Coast Guard Plane Not Cleared for Takeoff Before Deadly Collision

Air Traffic Control Transcript Raises Questions about Clearance

In a devastating incident at Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport, a Japanese coast guard aircraft collided with a Japan Airlines (JAL) plane, leading to a fiery catastrophe. The latest findings from an official transcript of air traffic control communications, released on Wednesday by Japanese Transport Minister Tetsuo Saito, suggest that the coast guard plane had not been cleared for takeoff.

The transcript, covering more than four minutes of communications before the tragedy, reveals that the coast guard aircraft was instructed only to “taxi to holding point” and lacked explicit approval for takeoff. In contrast, the JAL flight received permission to land, culminating in a collision that claimed the lives of five out of the six crew members on the smaller coast guard aircraft.

Adding complexity to the investigation, publicly available records indicate that out-of-service warning lights, designed to prevent pilots from mistakenly entering runways, may have played a role in the crash. A bulletin issued to pilots mentioned unserviceable stop bar lights from taxiways C1 to C14, including the taxiway where the coast guard flight was instructed to hold.

Transport Minister Saito emphasized that the incident is still under investigation, and the next step involves analyzing the audio recording of the conversation between the coast guard pilot and the flight control tower. The Japan Transportation Safety Board (JTSB) has already retrieved the flight and voice recorders from the coast guard aircraft, while efforts are ongoing to locate those of the JAL plane.

Japan Airlines, in a late Tuesday statement, affirmed that its crew had received clearance to land from air traffic control before the collision. However, the company faces potential losses of up to $100 million, with over 100 flights canceled since the incident. The airline is cooperating fully with the investigation and offering booking changes or ticket refunds for affected passengers.

Despite the tragic collision, the response of the JAL crew and passengers during the evacuation has been hailed as exemplary. In a reassuring revelation, it took just 18 minutes to evacuate all 379 people on board the Airbus A350, with only one person sustaining bruises. Witnesses described terror turning to relief as the passengers and crew exited the burning aircraft efficiently.

According to Japanese public broadcaster NHK, the pilots were initially unaware of the fire that broke out after the collision. Flight attendants, however, quickly noticed the smoke filling the cabin and took immediate action. Crew members guided passengers to remain calm as they reported the fire to the pilots and sought permission to open emergency exits.

The Airbus A350, equipped with eight emergency exits, initiated evacuation from two front exits and one rear exit, which were safe from the fire. The captain, displaying composure under pressure, became the last person to leave the plane at 6:05 p.m., marking the conclusion of a harrowing 18-minute ordeal.