Japan plane crash: Air safety experts search for voice data from debris

Searching for crucial information about what caused a small Coast Guard plane to crash on the runway at Tokyo's Haneda Airport, transportation safety officials searched for a voice recorder from the badly burned fuselage of a Japan Airlines plane.

On Saturday, heavy machinery worked for a second day to remove debris from the burning Airbus A320 for storage in a hangar that would allow the runway to reopen. Transport Minister Tetsuo Saito said authorities aim to reopen the runway on Monday. Wreckage of Japan Coast Guard aircraft removed.

Saito said the airport's traffic control operation will create a new level of monitoring of aircraft movement on the runways from Saturday. There has been speculation that the traffic controllers may have been unaware of the presence of a Coast Guard aircraft on the runway when the JAL plane was cleared to land.

Six experts from the Japan Transport Safety Board on Friday sifted through the wreckage of the Airbus A350-900 on the runway to search for voice data recordings.

JTSB experts have so far preserved both flight and voice data recorders from the Coast Guard's Bombardier Dash-8 and a flight data recorder from a JAL plane to try to determine what happened in the minutes before Tuesday's deadly collision.

All 379 passengers on board JAL Flight 516 were safely evacuated 18 minutes after landing as the plane burst into flames. The pilot of the Coast Guard plane also survived, but its five other crew members died. A coast guard plane was on a mission to deliver relief supplies to survivors of powerful earthquakes that killed at least 100 people in central Japan.

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New details have also emerged from media screenings at Haneda Airport. NHK television, from its surveillance camera at Haneda Airport, showed the coast guard plane hovering on the runway for about 40 seconds before crashing.

In the footage, Coast Guard aircraft C5 can be seen entering the runway from the taxiway, shortly after the passenger plane touched down right behind and crashed into it, creating an orange fireball. The JAL plane, engulfed in flames and belching gray smoke, continues down the runway before coming to a stop.

A transcript of the exchange recorded by traffic control released by the Ministry of Transport on Wednesday showed that the air traffic controller directed the Coast Guard to taxi the aircraft to a holding area just short of the runway. The Coast Guard pilot repeats the instruction, then no. Thanks for 1 slot. There was no instruction from control to allow the Coast Guard to enter the runway.

The pilot told police investigators that his plane was hit when he started the engines after receiving clearance for takeoff.

The small lights on the Coast Guard plane and its 40-second stop may have been less than visible to JAL pilots and air traffic control. NHK also said air traffic control officers may have missed the warning system for unauthorized runway entry while engaged in other operations.

JTSB investigators planned to interview seven JAL cabin attendants on Friday to obtain their accounts, after similar interviews with three pilots and two attendants earlier in the day.

Aircraft maker Airbus Group has also joined the probe, which is required under international aviation safety rules, the board said.

Aviation safety officials from France, home to Airbus' main management, and Canada, which makes the Bombardier planes, are expected to cooperate with the investigation. Experts from the US National Transportation Board are on hand to assist with the A320's Honeywell-manufactured flight and voice data recorders.

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