Runway warning lights were broken at time of Japan Airlines plane fire, report shows

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(TOKYO) — The warning lights that tell pilots whether a runway is clear were not working at the Haneda Airport the night a Japan Airlines plane caught fire after colliding with a coast guard aircraft, according to official aviation data.

A NOTAM message, a notice containing information essential to pilots and other personnel concerned with flight operations, issued on Dec. 27 alerted pilots that the light system was down for the foreseeable future.

It is unclear whether the the lack of warning lights on the runway played a role in how the incident unfolded. The investigation is ongoing.

As a Japan Airlines plane caught fire on a runway in Tokyo on Tuesday, the flight crew directed hundreds of passengers off the aircraft using megaphones and “their own voices,” the airline said Wednesday.

“The aircraft’s announcement system malfunctioned during the evacuation,” the airline said in a press statement.

All 367 passengers and 12 crew members were evacuated after the plane struck a Japan coast guard aircraft while landing at Haneda Airport in Tokyo. Eight infants were on board the Airbus A350.

The airline in a statement on Wednesday detailed the moments before and during the landing, saying the three crew members in the cockpit had been given permission to land.

Air traffic control did not clear the Japan coast guard plane to enter the runway before the collision, Japanese broadcaster NHK reported, citing transcripts released Wednesday by the country’s transportation ministry. All passengers on the Japan Airlines plane evacuated through three emergency exits, the airline said. The passengers “successfully performed an emergency evacuation,” as the plane began to be consumed by flames, the airline said.

At least 14 passengers requested medical consultations. One person had bruising and 13 others requested consultations “due to physical discomfort,” the airline said.

The flight, JAL516, had left New Chitose Airport in Sapporo, Japan, on time at about 3:50 p.m. on Tuesday. It “did not experience any issues or irregularities” during its departure or the flight, Japan Airlines said. It landed late at 5:47 p.m.

“According to interviews with the operating crew, they acknowledged and repeated the landing permission from air traffic control, and then proceeded with the approach and landing procedures,” Japan Airlines said in a statement.

The plane struck a Japan coast guard aircraft, killing five of the six crew members on board, according to Japanese officials. Videos from the scene showed the larger plane erupting in flames as it moved down the runway.

The Airbus was a total loss after it was engulfed in flames on the runway, the airline said.

The aircraft, which had been registered as JA13XJ, was delivered to Japan Airlines on Nov. 10, 2021, Airbus said in a statement on Tuesday. Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines powered the aircraft.

The French plane manufacturer said it was sending “a team of specialists” to Japan to assist French and Japanese investigators studying the crash.

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