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May 26, 2024

Runway Collision in Tokyo Leaves 5 Dead, Hundreds Evacuated from Burning Plane

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Jan 5, 2024

Overview of the Incident

On January 2nd, 2024, Japan Airlines flight JL516, an Airbus A350 carrying 307 passengers and crew, was involved in a runway collision with a Dash 8 aircraft from the Japan Coast Guard at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. The coast guard plane reportedly entered the runway without clearance just as the JAL flight was coming in to land after a flight from Fukuoka.

The two aircraft collided at low speed near the threshold of Haneda’s Runway 34L. The coast guard plane flipped over from the impact while the JAL aircraft skidded down the runway, coming to rest approximately 2000 feet from the threshold. The A350’s left engine and wing root area erupted into flames shortly thereafter.

Incredibly, all 307 passengers and crew aboard the JAL flight were able to rapidly evacuate the burning aircraft without any fatalities. However, the coast guard plane carried eight people and five were killed in the accident.

Haneda airport was temporarily closed after the incident but later reopened with only minor delays and cancellations.

Evacuation and Survivor Accounts

The successful evacuation of all the JAL passengers and crew without any loss of life has been described as nothing short of miraculous. Despite the post-crash fire and damage, survivors say the aircraft’s emergency exits and inflatable slides deployed successfully. Flight attendants hurriedly directed passengers away from the intense flames toward functioning exits.

“The flight attendants were saying to go the other way because of the fire so I hopped over a few seats,” said survivor Roy Larson of Seattle. “I ended up sliding down the emergency chute on the opposite side of the plane from where we entered. The whole thing probably took less than 90 seconds.”

Once outside, passengers ran away from the burning wreckage toward safety. Some reported explosions coming from the plane after they escaped. Video shows many passengers dragging carry-on luggage with them, despite flight attendant instructions to leave bags behind.

“I heard babies crying and people begging the flight attendants to let them off,” said survivor Michael Chen. “The cabin filled with smoke so quickly it was terrifying. But I managed to slide down an emergency chute and get away safely with just a few bruises.”

The flight’s 13 cabin crew members have been widely praised for their quick and decisive actions that led to the incredibly successful mass evacuation under extremely difficult conditions.

Cause and Investigation

The cause of the accident remains under investigation by Japanese authorities. Flight data recordings and air traffic control transcripts show that JAL flight 516 was given clearance to land on Runway 34L. Approximately 40 seconds before the JAL aircraft touched down, the coast guard Dash 8 entered the active runway without permission from air traffic control. Despite desperate evasive maneuvers attempted by the JAL pilots upon sighting the other plane, the two aircraft collided.

Investigators are focused on why the coast guard aircraft was on the runway during an active landing sequence without clearance. Initial assessments highlight the older model Dash 8 was not equipped with an Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) secondary radar transponder system. These systems allow planes to broadcast their GPS position to air traffic control and provide alerts about potential collisions. If the coast guard aircraft had ADS-B capabilities, the system may have warned controllers and pilots of the impending collision.

Airline and Manufacturer Response

Japan Airlines issued a statement saying they are cooperating fully with crash investigators and offered condolences to the families of the deceased from the coast guard plane. Regarding their evacuating passengers, JAL praised the “heroic actions of our well-trained cabin crew which resulted in the safe escape of all aboard.”

Airbus, who built the A350 aircraft, also released a statement saying: “We are very relieved to hear reports that all passengers and crew safely evacuated Flight JL516. While the cause remains uncertain, we commend the professional crew members whose extensive training and preparations enabled the rapid evacuation of more than 300 people.”

Aviation experts say the successful outcome highlights the stringent safety standards, evacuation protocols and crew training requirements that commercial passenger airlines must follow.

“This incident shows that even with a severe post-crash fire, modern airliners like the A350 can still be rapidly evacuated if airline procedures are properly followed,” said John Hansman, a professor of aeronautics at MIT.

Financial and Operational Impacts

While still early, Japan Airlines says they expect the runway collision and subsequent aircraft damage to cost approximately $105 million. The airline took out insurance on the A350 plane which should help cover repair and replacement costs. Still, industry analysts say JAL could report substantial losses related to flight cancellations, aircraft substitutions, and reputational damage surrounding the accident.

In addition to costs for Japan Airlines, the busy Haneda airport had to temporarily halt all flights after the incident. While operations resumed fairly quickly, over 100 flights were cancelled and many more delayed as only a single runway was available while investigators assessed the crash site.

With over 950 total daily takeoffs and departures, Haneda is one of the busiest single-runway airports in the world. Any major disruption leads to cascading impacts across Japan’s entire air transportation network.

Outlook and Impact Going Forward

Aviation authorities ordered emergency safety reviews at airports across Japan in the wake of the Haneda crash. The assessments focus on air traffic communication procedures as well as runway occupation warnings and anti-collision technology. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) also plans to review airport safety recommendations in light of the incident.

While fault has not been officially determined, the collision has renewed scrutiny around ADS-B usage. Japan lagged other developed nations in adopting the technology but has plans to integrate it across more of its domestic air fleet by 2026. Calls for accelerated adoption are growing after the crash.

The successful evacuation also highlighted key aircraft safety preparations that allowed the rapid escape of all aboard. It reaffirmed the rigorous training standards for flight crews to handle emergency situations. Some analysts say the incident may inspire airlines worldwide to push for more frequent evacuation training and drills. According to aviation professor Hansman, the crash “demonstrated the tremendous importance of regular cabin crew instruction on evacuations.”

For now, Japan Airlines continues to cooperate fully with crash investigators while gradually resuming normal operations. The searing images of the flaming A350 evacuation will likely stay with many flyers both in Japan and globally. But it also renewed confidence that even after a disastrous runway collision, modern aircraft can still deliver passengers safely home.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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