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EDITORIAL | Two New Year Tragedies Call for Big Improvements in Information Sharing 

Social anxiety is spreading in the wake of the double tragedies on the first two days of 2024, punctuating the importance of disseminating correct information.



Japan Airlines going up in flames at Haneda Airport on the afternoon of January 2nd, Haneda Airport (©Sankei by Hideyuki Matsui)

A shocking accident occurred on Tuesday, January 2, when a Japan Airlines passenger plane and a Japan Coast Guard (JCG) aircraft collided on the runway at Haneda Airport. A large fire ensued. It occurred amidst the first New Year holiday since the relaxation of restrictions following the COVID-19 pandemic. Adding to the shock of the Noto Peninsula earthquakes, it made for a New Year of tragedies.

We hope that the authorities will quickly identify the cause of the accident. Meanwhile, steps must be taken to minimize the impact on passengers heading home after the yearend holidays.

The Japan Airlines plane was about to land after flying from New Chitose Airport in Hokkaido. All 367 passengers and crew managed to evacuate the aircraft. Although a fire had already broken out by the time the aircraft came to a halt, the evacuation was carried out successfully thanks to the clear directions of the crew and the calm manner in which the passengers deplaned. 

Passengers evacuate the JAL plane after the plane crash at Haneda Airport using an emergency escape chute. (Photo provided by a passenger)

Foreign media reports referred to it as a "miracle" with a"textbook" evacuation. There is no denying that everyone involved responded splendidly during the accident. 

Unfortunately, five of the crew members of the JCG aircraft perished. The accident occurred while they were en route to Niigata Airport. They were transporting relief supplies for areas on the Noto Peninsula devastated by the New Year’s Day earthquakes. 

We would like to express our condolences for the crew members who died in the line of duty. 

Investigating the Accident

The Japan Transport Safety Board and the Metropolitan Police Department are investigating the crash. The focus is on the analysis of communications between air traffic controllers and the two aircraft. What were the perceptions of the pilots of the two aircraft? 

Burnt JAL plane = Haneda Airport on the morning of January 3rd (from a Kyodo News helicopter)

The JAL pilots told in-house investigators, "After receiving permission to land from air traffic control, we performed the landing operation." On the other hand, the pilot of the JCG aircraft, who survived the crash, had a different perception. He reportedly told Coast Guard officials that he understood that "flight control had given us permission to take off."  

Given the pilots' obviously divergent perceptions, there seems to have been miscommunication at some point.


An Uneasy Start to 2024

In the history of Japanese civil aviation, there had never before been an accident in which two planes collided on the runway that resulted in such violent flames and terrible destruction. Accidents related to the assessment of safety could cast doubt on Japan's air traffic control capabilities. The cause of the Haneda accident needs to be thoroughly investigated and measures taken to prevent a recurrence. 

On New Year's Day, the day before the Haneda tragedy, an earthquake with a maximum seismic intensity of 7 struck the Noto Peninsula in Ishikawa Prefecture. After daybreak on January 2, the utter destruction in the area affected by repeated aftershocks, tsunamis, and raging fires was there for all to see. 

Then that very same day we had the Haneda accident. Social anxiety is spreading in the wake of the double tragedies on the first two days of 2024. 

One of many houses that collapsed in the Reiwa 6 Ishikawa earthquake. (© Sankei by Yoshinori Saito)

The Power of Good Information

In this time of emergency, it is very important to disseminate correct information. The government needs to exhibit leadership and provide accurate information on the earthquake and aircraft accident to the nation’s people. Meanwhile, it must also guide the relevant agencies and industries. 

It goes without saying that relief must be provided to the disaster victims. Moreover, operations at Haneda Airport must be restored to normal without delay. 

The accident involving a Japan Coast Guard aircraft transporting relief supplies is also tragic. But we must not falter in supporting the disaster-stricken areas. 

Defense Minister Minoru Kihara has said, "We are seeking to maintain support activities without delay while being alert to avoid secondary damage."

That is the exact approach we need to take at this time. 


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun


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