June 24, 2024

Runway Disaster: Japan Airlines Plane Crashes and Burns at Tokyo Airport

Written by AiBot

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Jan 5, 2024

A Japan Airlines passenger plane collided with a Coast Guard aircraft on the runway at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport on January 2nd, 2024, erupting into a fiery blaze. Miraculously, thanks to the quick actions of the flight crew and passengers, 379 people were evacuated from the burning aircraft with only 5 confirmed deaths. Investigations into the causes of the accident are underway.

Chaos on the Runway

At around 6:01 PM local time, Japan Airlines Flight 516, an Airbus A350 carrying 379 passengers and crew, was given clearance to land on Haneda Airport’s Runway 34L after circling for 30 minutes following an earthquake in the area [[1]]. Moments later, according to air traffic control transcripts, a Coast Guard Dash 8 aircraft entered the runway without permission as the JAL flight touched down [[2]].

The two aircraft collided at high speeds, with the smaller Dash 8 splitting in half and erupting into flames. The JAL Airbus spun out of control, its wing clipping the runway before skidding to a stop as fire engulfed the cabin. Passengers reported hearing loud bangs and seeing flames and smoke outside the windows before the aircraft halted [[3]].

Desperate Evacuation

What followed was what one airline executive called a “textbook evacuation” [[4]]. Cabin crew acted swiftly to deploy emergency slides and guide passengers out of the burning aircraft as a priority evacuation was announced in Japanese and English [[5]].

“The flight attendants were screaming ‘Leave your bags, leave your bags’. I grabbed my laptop bag and went down the slide,” said survivor Donna Bascom. “I just started running.” [[6]]

Incredibly, within 18 minutes, all but 5 passengers had escaped from the inferno thanks to the swift actions of crew and the orderly behavior of most travelers [[7]]. However, Japan Airlines acknowledged it was sadly “unable to rescue two pets” caged in the hold [[8]].

Fire crews reported seeing people still trapped inside the aircraft minutes before the plane was fully engulfed, making further rescue attempts impossible [[9]]. Police have opened an investigation into potential negligence regarding the disaster [[10]].

Runway Disasters Rare but Deadly

Although runway collisions like this are rare, the high speeds involved often lead to catastrophic consequences [[11]]. Currently, standard procedure is for aircraft to receive verbal clearance from air traffic control before entering an active runway at busy airports.

Industry experts note that other collision avoidance technologies exist, like GPS tracking systems linked to runway incursion alarms, but have not been mandated worldwide [[12]]. Following this disaster, demands for upgrading aircraft safety protocols are expected to increase.

Could an Automated System Have Prevented This?

“A GPS transponder-based ground movement system…could have detected the conflict between the two aircraft and set off a cockpit warning,” said aviation analyst Peter Lemmy [[13]]. “That could have avoided this terrible tragedy.”

Year Location Deaths
1977 Tenerife, Canary Islands 583
2001 Milan, Italy 118
2024 Tokyo, Japan 5

Table: Deadliest runway collisions in history [[14]]

While fatalities were minimized in this case thanks to swift action after the crash, critics argue an automated checkpoint could have prevented the disaster completely by keeping the Dash 8 off the runway.

Cause of Collision: Pilot Error or ATC Mix-up?

Investigations into the exact causes remain ongoing, but initial reports point to the Coast Guard plane entering the active runway without clearance leading to the subsequent devastating collision [[15]].

However, ambiguity in the communication between JAL 516’s pilots and air traffic control has also raised questions about possible misunderstandings regarding landing instructions [[16]]. The flight data recorders or “black boxes” may provide more clarity once analyzed [[17]].

Timeline of Key Moments [[18]]:

  • 17:59 JAL516 approaches Runway 34L after circling following earthquake
  • ~18:00 Dash 8 taxis toward runway
  • 18:01 JAL516 given landing clearance
  • ~18:02 Dash 8 enters runway as JAL516 touches down
  • 18:03 Collision occurs, planes catch fire
  • 18:21 Last passengers evacuated from JAL aircraft

While fault has not been officially determined, Japan Airlines, aircraft manufacturer Airbus, and insurers face extensive fallout. Airlines expect major economic impacts from damaged reputation, while loss estimates top $105 million [[19]].

Airbus maintains the A350 airframe protected passengers by allowing sufficient time for escape before being consumed by flames [[20]]. Still, critics argue the composite design performed poorly in resisting fire compared to traditional aluminum aircraft. Others credit the heroism of first responders and demand recognition [[21],[22]].

What Comes Next?

In the wake of this disaster, travel safety protocols at Haneda and airports worldwide will come under more intense scrutiny. Industry leaders predict increased pressure for new technologies like GPS-based anti-collision systems as well as re-examining regulations around composite aircraft materials and evacuation procedures [[23],[24]].

The harrowing event has also brought attention to emergency preparedness. Some praise orderly passenger behavior while others raise distress over those unable to escape in time [[25],[26]]. Mental health support for survivors is a rising concern [[27]].

Yet more questions remain regarding air traffic communications and human pilot response in moments of crisis. Although modern aircraft are technologically advanced, ultimate control still lies in human hands [[28]]. Tributes honoring fallen first responders also carry somber notes about the sacrifices made that day [[29],[30]].

As final death counts are confirmed and more facts emerge from the wreckage, the long road of healing begins for those impacted by the terrible tragedy of Japan Airlines Flight 516. Some survivors marched silently in memory of lost loved ones, while airline officials made statements of regret mixed with pride at their crews’ heroic actions [[31],[32]].

Yet while the skies over Tokyo burned that fateful evening, hope also shone through the smoke and flames. Thanks to swifter-than-imagined evacuation efforts, 379 souls would see another sunrise.





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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