How 379 people miraculously survived Japan Airlines plane crash

Pilots in the cockpit of a packed Japan Airlines flight that crashed into a smaller plane in Tokyo have said they didn’t see the aircraft, and are understood to have been unaware at first that a fire had broken out on board their own plane.

Japan Airlines flight JL516 was landing at Haneda Airport, officially Tokyo International Airport, on Tuesday when it collided with a Japan Coast Guard aircraft that was preparing to takeoff.

Both planes burst into flames and while 367 passengers – including 12 Australians – and 12 crew escaped the Airbus A350, five of the six people on the smaller Bombardier Dash-8 plane died.

The JAL pilots reported to the airline that they had no visual contact with the smaller aircraft when entering the runway so did not discuss aborting the approach, according to Japanese public broadcaster NHK.

It is unknown why the pilots did not see the other aircraft.

At a press conference late on Tuesday, Japan Airlines managing executive officer Tadayuki Tsutsumi had said the flight made “a normal entry and landing” on the runway.

His colleague Noriyuki Aoki also insisted the flight crew had received proper permissions from air traffic control to land.

Miraculous tale of survival

Japan Airlines also provided details to NHK on how all the passengers from its burning jet were evacuated safely in 18 minutes – an even more incredible outcome when looking at pictures of the wreckage.

It was reported the plane skidded along the runway for about a kilometre and the pilots in the cockpit were unaware that a fire had broken out.

It was the flight attendants who noticed the aircraft was on fire and smoke began to fill the cabin.

As passengers were told to remain calm, a flight attendant reported the fire to the cockpit because they needed permission to open the emergency exits.

The airline said passengers were evacuated from two exits at the front of the plane but there was one other exit – of eight total – at the left rear of the plane that was also safe from the fire.

The cockpit could not give permission to use this exit because the intercom system was not working, so flight attendants made the decision to go ahead and open it anyway, in line with evacuation procedures.

The decision allowed more passengers to slide down escape chutes.

Inside Japan Airlines flight as it crashed

Japan Airlines said the captain was the last person to escape at 6:05pm, which was 18 minutes after landing.

In an official statement, Japan Airlines said one person had bruising and 13 people requested medical consultation due to physical discomfort.

It also said the aircraft’s announcement system malfunctioned during the evacuation, so cabin crew members conducted instructions using a megaphone and their voices.

Transcripts reveal moments before crash

Late on Wednesday, local time, Japan’s ministry of transport, released the details of the dialogue between air traffic control and the aircraft.

The transcripts cover a time period of approximately four minutes prior to the crash on Tuesday evening.

It confirms that at 5.44pm the JAL plane was cleared to land on runway 34R at Tokyo’s Haneda airport.

A few seconds later controllers contacted the Coast Guard plane and told it to “taxi to holding point C5”.

At 5.45pm, the Dash 8 crew member said “taxi to holding point C5, thank you”.

Those seven words means the smaller plane should have stopped short of the runway and waited for further instructions.

However, it appears that plan then entered the runway just as the A350 landed on top of it.

The only surviving crew member of the smaller plane had said he had been given permission to enter the runway. The transcripts appear to contradict this.

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