A350 and Dash-8 Collision at Haneda

5 Jan 24 17 Comments

On the 2nd of January 2024 at 17:47 local time (08:47 GMT), an Airbus A350 collided with a de Havilland Canada DHC-8 Q300 (Dash 8) at Haneda International Airport in Tokyo.

There are still many questions, but let’s put together what we know so far.

Japan Airlines flight 516 departed Shin-Chitose airport, which serves the Sapporo metropolitan area on Hokkaidō, with 367 passengers on board and 15 crew (three flight crew and twelve cabin crew). As they approached Haneda Airport, it was a clear night with no significant weather.

At the same time, the Dash-8, which belonged to the Japanese Coast Guard, was preparing for departure to deliver relief supplies to areas struck by the earthquakes. There were six crew on board the turboprop aircraft.

This transcript is based on the excerpt released by Japan’s Ministry of Transport. I’ve omitted some of the self-identification on radio for ease of reading.

Japan Airlines 516: Tokyo Tower, [this is] JAL516 spot18.

The spot references are used by Haneda approach to demonstrate the sequence of the landing aircraft. There are two parallel runways, runway 34L and runway 34R (left and right) used for mixed operations. Apparently, domestic flights arriving from the north under northerly winds always use runway 34R.

Tokyo Tower: Good evening. Runway 34R, continue approach. Wind 320/7, we have departure.

The controller confirms the runway and to continue the approach; the aircraft has not yet been cleared to land. I’m not sure what “we have departure” means in this context but it seems to be used in multiple calls.

Japan Airlines 516: Continue approach 34R.

At the same time, the Coast Guard aircraft (JA722A) is talking to Ground and taxiing across the airport towards runway 34R.

Tokyo Tower: JAL516: runway 34R cleared to land. Wind 310/8.

The Japan Airlines flight is given unambiguous clearance to land. They are now six nautical miles away and will be landing in just over two minutes.

The Coast Guard aircraft continues and then calls as it approaches the runway.

Coast Guard JA722A: Tower, JA722A, C.

The “C” is Taxiway C, a shorthanded way of giving location.

Tokyo Tower: Good evening. Number one, taxi to holding point C5.

So, the use of “good evening” here marks this as the initial contact with Tokyo Tower. This means that the Dash-8 flight crew would not have heard the exchange of the Airbus on approach or that it was cleared to land on runway 34R.

The controller is telling the Coast Guard flight that they are number one for departure (it seems likely that the flight out was expedited) and that they should taxi to holding point C5.

C5 is located at the start of runway 34R and so they are to stop before entering the runway and wait there for further instructions.

Here is a Google Satellite image that my daughter has annotated to show the holding point at C5 and Runway 34R.

It would have been nice if the tower had given a bit more information, for example, “number one after the landing aircraft”. What is clear in hindsight is that the Coast Guard flight did not know that the Japan Airlines A350 was on final approach.

Coast Guard JA722A: Taxi to holding point C5; JA722A number one. Thank you.

The flight crew have unambiguously confirmed that they are only cleared to the holding point, not to enter the runway. Another departing aircraft calls the tower and is told to hold at C1. This aircraft will depart after the Coast Guard flight.

The BBC stated that the lights at the holding point were not working and it is correct that there was a NOTAM that the Stop Bar Lights were unserviceable. However, those lights are only used in poor visibility and if they had worked, they would not have been switched on that night.

The Dash-8 turns left into C5 and switches on the wing-tip strobe lights. Meanwhile, the Airbus A350 is coming in fast, three miles out and at 1,000 feet.

A second Japan Airlines flight inbound to Haneda joins the frequency.

JAL166: Tokyo Tower, JAL166 spot 21.

Tokyo Tower: Good evening JAL166. Number 2, runway 34R, continue approach, wind 320/8, we have departure, reduce speed to 160 knots.

The Coast Guard flight has now heard that a flight is inbound, and that it hasn’t been cleared to land. It would not be unreasonable to assume that JAL166 will be cleared to land on 34R after the Dash-8 is out of the way, especially as the inbound aircraft was told to slow down. This does seem to be the controller’s intent but only after the Japan Airlines flight 516 has landed. I suspect that the flight crew of the Dash-8, having been told that they are number one and that the approaching aircraft needs to slow down to allow them time to depart, may have lost sight of the fact that they were told to hold short.

JAL166: Reduce 160 knots, runway 34R, continue approach.

The Coast Guard Dash-8 does not stop at C5 to wait for further instructions. Instead, the aircraft continues onto the runway without pausing and then positions itself for departure.

There are a couple of failures here:

  1. Obviously, the big one is that the flight was not cleared to enter the runway and should not have done so.
  2. Before entering an active runway, the flight crew should *always* look in both directions for inbound aircraft. If the person in the right-hand seat of the Dash-8 had looked right, they should have seen the lights of Airbus A350 coming into land.
  3. Authorities have stated that the surface monitoring system (Surface Movement Radar) which tracks aircraft movement on the ground, was working normally. If so, then the runway should have flashed yellow, showing the unexpected aircraft in red. However, if the alert happened, the controller did not notice it. A statement by the Ministry of Transport says only that the controller was not watching the Dash-8 and did not realise it had entered the runway.

There has been some question as to whether the Coast Guard aircraft had a transponder which could be tracked through civil aviation but there has been no official comment to this effect and the Surface Movement Radar should work with primary radar rather than relying on transponders.

The Dash-8 was on the runway for about 40 seconds without anyone noticing. Then the Airbus A350 touched down and collided with the smaller plane. The flight crew felt a sudden bang and the A350 swerved on the runway. They never saw the Coast Guard aircraft and did not know what had happened.

This video, an edited version of the CCTV footage, shows the lights of the Dash-8 taxiing and then entering the runway and stopping, followed by the Airbus A350 landing into it (warning: disturbing imagery).

The captain of the Dash-8 managed to stumble away, presumably thrown clear of the wreckage, severely injured. Tbe other five occupants of the Dash-8 were killed on impact.

The Airbus A3509 slid along the runway for another 1,700 metres (5,500 feet) and then came to a halt.

The cabin filled with smoke. Passengers began to panic but the cabin crew managed to take charge. On a popular aviation forum, a poster who said they worked as a cabin crew member for Japan Airlines years ago, explained the training at Japan Airlines.

During a crash landing the cabin crew performs what we endearingly referred to as “Banana-Pineapple-Juice”

  • Brace for Impact
  • Panic Control
  • Judgement
  • Coordination
  • Evacuation

    So Panic Control is to tell the PAX to stay calm/seated whilst assessing the outside condition and judging if door is useable. I believe that’s what the crew did first.

    Then if situation is dangerous, you may initiate evacuation, without waiting for the pilot’s command and coordinate the flow of PAX to your door or, if door inop, block door and redirect to other useable exit. Evacuate everyone from your station/ door, check cabin for any remaining PAX that need help, leave last.

    Much practice was done at the Haneda JAL training centre!

  • However, the evacuation attempts were hampered by the fact that the communications systems were damaged in the crash. It was seven minutes before the passengers started to exit the aircraft, although when they did, video footage shows that it was in an orderly fashion and without carrying hand luggage. A statement from Japan Airlines said that the delay was caused by the cabin crew waiting for the pilots’ confirmation that the aircraft was safely stopped and trying to work out which doors were safe to open. In the end, they used three of the eight slides (the rest were blocked by the fire).

    Here are two screenshots from the airport’s CCTV, taken 27 minutes apart.

    A passenger who tweets as Ricole posted a 3-second video of the evacuation and in a later tweet gave permission for all media to use the footage, saying: “I’ll be happy if this becomes an opportunity, to take evacuation training seriously and think of it as your own tomorrow.” Another tweet referred to children from the flight asking if the bus would crash as well.

    (Thanks to the language channel of my writing group for help with the Japanese.)

    Although the Wall Street Journal wrote that the evacuation took much too long at 18 minutes, TV Asahi says that although the evacuation took seven minutes to start, most of the evacuation happened within ten minutes. The final delay was a few frightened passengers who had remained on the plane. The captain, said TV Asahi, found them still on board as he did a final walk through the cabin to check for anyone who was injured or unable to move. He then convinced them to leave the burning craft. The captain was the last to leave the aircraft at 18 minutes after touchdown. However, the seven minutes that elapsed before the evacuation started is cause for concern.

    The Dash-8 captain has given only minimal statements, understandably as he is still suffering from serious injuries. He initially said that his aircraft had exploded, showing that he still had no idea about the inbound aircraft. He also believed that he had been given clearance to enter the runway, which the radio transcripts clearly show was not the case.

    The flight data recorders of both aircraft have been recovered as well as the cockpit voice recorder from the Dash-8. The cockpit voice recorder from the Airbus has not yet been found.

    This image by AvGeeknologist is useful for understanding the size difference between the two aircraft.

    Haneda airport have a live feed which at the moment shows the clearing of the Airbus A350 from the runway. The runway is expected to be back in service on Monday the 8th of January.

    The Japan Transport Safety Board is investigating, with support from the Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses (BEA) of France and Airbus. The British AAIB have also sent a team to offer assistance.


    • “Before entering an active runway, the flight crew should always look right for inbound aircraft. If the person in the right-hand seat of the Dash-8 had looked right, they should have seen the lights of Airbus A350 coming into land.”

      Maybe they did look and did see one aircraft, actually JAL516, but thought it was JAL166 totally misjudging the distance. Maybe an F/O not used to operating from large airports at night?

    • My concern is the fact that the plane burnt to the extent that it did.The hull is carbon fibre-should we be concerned?

      • I don’t think so; aluminium will also burn/melt to a similar extent in high temperature fire, and the job of the fuselage is to control fire long enough to allow evacuation. Surviving 18 minutes (!) to allow complete evacuation is a real endorsement of the material, IMO.

    • I agree with Ed, except for the “look right for inbound aircraft”.
      Many years ago, the captain of a Shorts 3-30 cargo aircraft somehow missed the holding point marker and came too close to the runway at Paris CDG. It was night. I knew this captain, she had flown with me as first officer on a Shorts 3-60 with another company. She left because she was offered a command position with her new employer.
      Tragically the wingtip of a landing airliner sliced through the cockpit window of the Shorts. It hit her head, killing her instantly.
      She might have been able to avoid the sad accident if she has looked to the left in time..
      She was a very nice person.
      Anyway, before I even try to properly read and analyse this entry, I must give full credit to the JAL cabin crew. There is no doubt in my mind that they did a superb job. They deserve a medal !

      On another note: Happy New Year, may Peace return !

      • So “look right” was my fault (correct for that particular junction, I shouldn’t have phrased it as an absolute) but I’m not sure how to better phrase it. “Look upstream” ?

    • I was also wondering about the time to evacuate; I refreshed my memory of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_France_Flight_358. (I remember this one because it meant a number of friends’ flights were changed on the way to our annual conference, and because a clip from a nearby traffic camera was running on a public screen when I checked in.) The article says that evacuation was completed in the recommended 90 seconds. Granted they had more working slides, but waiting 7 minutes to start seems excessive; I wonder whether the pilots had anything like the cabin crew’s training in order to quickly determine what should be done? In a worse situation (e.g. AF358), 18 minutes to evacuate might have left a lot of passengers dead. It will be interesting to read what the inquest brings out.

      • I’m bothered by the JAL statement that the cabin crew were waiting for confirmation from the flight deck — this is not a safe procedure in the case of fire, especially with the PA system down.

    • I’m also wondering whether the tower should have told the smaller plane “hold for incoming traffic”, not just “hold at C-5” (so the pilot would know not to cross the line until after someone had passed), or said this after talking to the 2nd inbound flight — is there a protocol for or against repeating/rephrasing instructions? (I can understand regional and en-route controllers not doing this as they have a lot on their plate and their planes have more elbow room, but confirmations in the last little crowded bit might be appropriate.)

      I’d love to know more about the capabilities of the Surface Movement Radar. I saw ASDE (an earlier version of this) on a tower visit almost 50 years ago, but I wonder how the extra processing necessary to identify an out-of-place aircraft works; does it get inputs to know when a blip shouldn’t be moving, or does it extrapolate flight paths to make collision alerts? (The version I saw couldn’t do that effectively as it only saw a few feet above the ground — aircraft on final typical showed up in it very near the runway threshold.)

      • Well, you wait for explicit clearance to enter the runway. “Taxi and hold” is just that, no matter the reason. It could also be a hold for birds, wake turbulence, a fouled runway, or ATC issues. You stay off the runway until told you can enter it.

        Even after incoming aircraft have landed and passed your taxiway and there’s nothing else in the air, there still is wake turbulence and other things to consider before entering the runway. ATC is the final authority.

    • I just saw this on the BBC (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-67899564)

      “A passenger plane lost a section of its fuselage in mid-air, forcing it to make an emergency landing in the US state of Oregon on Friday.”

      Passenger Diego Murillo told KPTV the gap was “as wide as a refrigerator” and described hearing a “really loud bang” as the oxygen masks dropped from above.

      He added: “They said there was a kid in that row whose shirt was sucked off him and out of the plane and his mother was holding onto him to make sure he didn’t go with it.”

      Wait. WTAF?

      • Boeing just can’t catch a break!

        The window where it blew is part of an optional emergency exit door — Alasta Airlines doesn’t use it, so it’s plugged. Except I guess apparently, it wasn’t.

    • Great post.

      I realise the Dash 8 is small compared to an A350 but it is still a big lump of metal sitting on tarmac in front of you. I can’t help thinking that one of the 3 flight deck crew on the A350 should have spotted it ahead in the darkness. After all, if this incident had occurred in daylight we would be attributing quite a lot of the blame to the JAL crew.

      In a video taken by a passenger of the landing shared widely, there were around 6 steward call bell sounds after the impact. What is going on there? Passengers attempting to alert the crew perhaps?

      It was an internal flight. In the many videos/photos of the evacuation I have not seen one passenger carrying luggage – unusually. Can this be attributed to the general good behaviour and reluctance to break the rules of the Japanese?

      • How visible the Dash 8 would have been at night is uncertain — depends on lighting, including the exact angle and spread of the cruise and landing lights of the Boeing. The Dash 8 might have had its forward lights on, making a visible splash on the runway ahead of it — or it might be waiting to turn them on full until it was ready to go to takeoff power. (This was a concern in the lightplanes I flew — the forward lights were dense enough that they weren’t to be on full power for more than a few seconds before takeoff because they depended on the airstream for cooling.) The inquest should tell us whether the pilots of the Boeing said anything indicating they were seeing something.

    • I would be interested to find out more about crew, particularly PIC, fatigue levels on the Dash 8. Disaster relief is often a time when mandatory rest rules get stretched.

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