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Air Traffic Controller ‘Unaware’ JCG Plane Entered Runway; JAL Crew, Passengers Also Being Questioned by Authorities

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Investigators examine the wreckage of a Japan Airlines jetliner at Haneda Airport in Tokyo on Thursday.

An air traffic controller told transport ministry investigators that he was not aware a Japan Coast Guard plane had entered a runway at Haneda Airport before it collided with a Japan Airlines jet, it has been learned.

Communication records released Wednesday also do not suggest anything unusual occurred between the air traffic controller telling the JCG aircraft to stand by outside the runway, and the collision about two minutes later.

The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry is investigating the circumstances of the fatal incident.

Haneda Airport has four runways, and two air traffic controllers are in charge of each runway in operation. Of these two, one controller is responsible for aircraft traveling from an apron to a taxiway. There are also assistant controllers, and the air traffic control at the airport is usually staffed by about 15 people in total.

According to ministry sources, the air traffic controller in charge of Runway C and others said during interviews with the authorities that they were unaware the JCG aircraft had been moving in a manner that differed from air traffic control’s instructions.

The communication records indicate that shortly after giving permission for the JAL airplane to land, the controller in charge of Runway C instructed the JCG aircraft to proceed to a holding point on the taxiway at 5:45:11 p.m. on Tuesday. The JCG side repeated the instruction.

Over the about two minutes until the collision occurred at 5:47:30 p.m., air traffic control communicated with two other commercial airplanes. There was no communication with the JAL and JCG planes.

The ministry also intends to look into communication within the air traffic control tower.

On Thursday morning, the Japan Transport Safety Board began interviewing crew members of the JAL plane.

Three pilots, including the 50-year-old captain, told an internal investigation that they could not see the JCG aircraft. Aviation accident investigators plan to look into their communication in the cockpit and elsewhere, in addition to the circumstances at the time of the collision.

The Metropolitan Police Department resumed on-site inspections on Runway C on Thursday morning. The captain of the JCG plane has already been interviewed on a voluntary basis, and passengers on the JAL plane are also being interviewed.