Air traffic experts are currently conducting their investigation into the deadly collision between two planes at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport that killed five Japan Coast Guard members. The details of the accident at the world’s third largest air travel hub are still to be determined.
On January 2 at approximately 5:47 PM local time, a Japan Airlines plane landing at Haneda Airport struck a Japan Coast Guard aircraft reportedly taxiing across the same runway. Video footage made available by Reuters shows flames already beginning to engulf the Airbus A350-900 before it completely landed, as well as emergency responders later putting out the fires. According to Japanese public broadcaster NHK, responders required over 100 firetrucks and other emergency vehicles to finally quell the blaze. Speaking with NBC News on Tuesday, one Japan Airlines passenger described feeling a large bump beneath the plane before seeing flames outside his window as smoke filled the cabin.
“The plane entered the runway in a normal manner and started normal landing procedures before there was impact and caused this accident, we have confirmed up to this point,” Japan Airlines senior vice president of corporate safety and security Tadayuki Tsutsumi said during a news conference. “But anything beyond that, the investigation is ongoing.”
Five Coast Guard members died in the collision, although their pilot survived. All 367 Japan Airlines passengers and 12 crew members aboard the Airbus A350-900 safely evacuated in time.
The Japan Coast Guard intended its plane for a delivery supply run to the country’s western area struck by an earthquake on January 1. The quake registered a 7.6 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale, killed 55 people, and briefly prompted fears of potential tsunamis, although such sizable waves did not materialize.
“They were filled with a determined sense of mission, and it is extremely regrettable and distressing what has happened to them,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said of the Coast Guard victims during a news conference following the airline collision. “I express my profound condolences to their surviving families.”
US aviation safety watchdogs have voiced concerns in recent months about the frequency of near-collisions at airports. An August 2023 investigation from The New York Times cites chronic air traffic control understaffing as one potential factor, alongside rebounding post-pandemic air travel.