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JCG Captain Mistook ‘No. 1’ Position for Permission to Take off Prior to Haneda Accident; Voice Recorders Being Analyzed

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Investigators are seen on Jan. 4 near a Japan Airlines plane that collided with a Japan Coast Guard aircraft at Haneda Airport two days earlier.

The captain of a Japan Coast Guard aircraft that collided with a Japan Airlines plane at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport has told investigators that when an air traffic controller told him his aircraft was “No. 1” in takeoff order shortly before the accident, he mistook this for permission to enter the runway, sources close to the investigation said.

The accident occurred one month ago, on Jan. 2.

“I heard ‘No. 1’ from the air traffic controller, repeated the instruction, and entered the runway. I mistakenly assumed I had permission,” the 39-year-old captain told investigators, according to the sources.

This further increases the odds that the phrase “No. 1,” meaning first in line for departure, may have contributed to the erroneous pullout onto the runway, and authorities, including the Japan Transport Safety Board, are looking into the details of the accident.

The captain was interviewed by the Metropolitan Police Department and the coast guard immediately after the accident, and the safety board also began interviewing him on Jan. 25, when the captain, who sustained serious injuries in the accident and was sent to a hospital, was transferred to the hospital’s general ward.

The investigation into the cause of the accident is picking up speed, with the voice recorders of both aircraft now being analyzed.

According to the sources, the captain had told the coast guard and others on the night of the accident that he had entered the runway after receiving permission to do so.

However, he later told investigators that he had misunderstood the air traffic controller, and explained the circumstances surrounding the phrase “No. 1.”

The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry has said that it “cannot deny” the possibility that communications, including the use of the phrase “No. 1,” may have led to misunderstandings in the coast guard aircraft. Air traffic controllers have stopped actively providing information on the takeoff order of aircraft departing from airports.