Japanese plane crash: Air safety experts search for audio data from wreckage

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

On Saturday, heavy machinery worked for a second day to remove the burning wreckage of the Airbus A320 for storage in a hangar to allow the runway to reopen. Transport Minister Tetsu Saito said officials were aiming to reopen the runway on Monday. The wreckage of the Japanese Coast Guard plane has been removed.

Saito said the airport's traffic control operation will set up a new aircraft traffic control site on the runways starting Saturday. There was speculation that traffic controllers may not have noticed the presence of the Coast Guard plane on the runway when they gave the JAL plane permission to land.

Six experts from the Japan Transportation Safety Board on Friday walked through the wreckage of the Airbus A350-900 lying on the runway in search of the voice data recorder.

JTSB experts have so far secured flight and audio data recorders from a Coast Guard Bombardier Dash-8 aircraft and a flight data recorder from a JAL plane to find out what happened in the last few minutes before Tuesday's fatal collision.

All 379 people on board JAL Flight 516 were safely evacuated within 18 minutes of landing as the plane caught fire. The pilot of the Coast Guard plane also survived, but the other five crew members died. The Coast Guard plane was on a mission to deliver relief materials to survivors of the powerful earthquakes that struck central Japan, killing at least 100 people.

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New details also emerged from media footage at Haneda Airport. NHK reported that footage from a surveillance camera installed at Haneda Airport showed that the Coast Guard plane moved to the runway and stopped there for 40 seconds before the collision.

In the footage, the Coast Guard plane is seen entering the runway from taxiway C5, then shortly after the passenger plane descends directly behind it and collides with it, creating an orange fireball. The JAL plane, engulfed in flames and spewing gray smoke, continues down the runway before coming to a stop.

A transcript of the call recorded at traffic control, released by the Department of Transportation on Wednesday, showed that the air traffic controller asked the Coast Guard plane to move to a parking position just before the runway, indicating departure priority No. 1. The Coast Guard pilot repeats the instructions, then offers thanks. On first place. There were no further instructions from the watch allowing the Coast Guard to enter the runway.

The pilot told police investigators that his plane was hit while he was starting the engines after receiving clearance to take off.

The small lights on board the Coast Guard plane and its 40-second stop may have made it less visible to Japan Airlines pilots and air traffic control. NHK also said air traffic control officials may have missed the alert system for unauthorized runway entry while they were engaged in other operations.

JTSB investigators on Friday planned to interview seven JAL cabin attendants to obtain their accounts, following similar interviews with the three pilots and two other flight attendants the day before.

A team from aircraft manufacturer Airbus also joined the investigation, a requirement under international aviation safety rules, according to the council.

Aviation safety authorities in France, the home of Airbus's main management, and Canada, where the Bombardier aircraft manufacturer is based, are scheduled to cooperate in the investigation. Experts from the US National Transportation Board were scheduled to provide assistance with flight data and voice recorders manufactured by Honeywell for the A320.

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