Flights resume on repaired Tokyo runway a week after fatal collision

TOKYO (AP) — Flights resumed Monday on a repaired runway at Tokyo’s Haneda airport a week after a collision between a Japan Airlines plane and a coast guard aircraft believed to have been caused by human error.

The coastal runway is one of four at Haneda and its reopening means the airport is near returning to normal operations.

The collision occurred Tuesday evening when JAL Flight 516 carrying 379 passengers and crew landed right behind the coast guard aircraft preparing to take off on the same seaside runway, engulfing both aircraft in flames. All occupants of the JAL’s Airbus A350-900 airliner safely evacuated in 18 minutes. The captain of the coast guard’s much smaller Bombardier Dash-8 escaped with burns but his five crew members died.

At the coast guard’s Haneda base, colleagues of the five flight crew lined up and saluted to mourn for their deaths as black vehicles carrying their bodies drove past them. The victims’ bodies were to return to their families Monday after police autopsies were conducted as part of a separate investigation into possible professional negligence.

Haneda reopened three of its four runways the night of the crash, but the last runway had remained closed for the investigation, cleanup of the debris and repairs.

The collision caused more than 1,200 flights to be canceled, affecting about 200,000 passengers during the New Year holiday period. The airport was crowded with passengers Monday. All scheduled flights have resumed except for 22 JAL flights cancelled through Tuesday.

The investigation focuses on what caused the coast guard flight crew to believe they had a go-ahead for their takeoff while the traffic control transcript showed no clear confirmation between them and the traffic control. Traffic control staff assigned to the runway apparently missed an alert system when it indicated the unexpected coast guard entry.

The Haneda airport traffic control added a new position Saturday specifically assigned to monitor the runway to step up safety measures.

A team from the Japan Transport Safety Board was interviewing traffic control officials Monday as part of their investigation. The six-member team has so far interviewed JAL flight crew members and recovered flight data and voice recorders from both planes, which are key to determining what led to the collision.

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This story has been corrected to say victims’ bodies were returned to their families Monday, not Sunday.

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