Tokyo Haneda is the world’s third-busiest airport, according to OAG, a United Kingdom-based travel industry data provider. Flight schedules data from Cirium analysed by Reuters showed an average of 1,290 flights departed and arrived at Haneda daily in December.
On the day of the accident, a public holiday in Japan, the airport was at full capacity, said Shigenori Hiraoka, director general of the Civil Aviation Bureau.
It was no ordinary day for the Coast Guard either.
The doomed plane had early that morning returned with a different crew from a mission taking relief workers to an area devastated by the earthquake, the Coast Guard official also told Reuters.
Thousands of rescue workers were scrambled to respond to the disaster.
Captain Genki Miyamoto, 39, and his crew were preparing to take the plane – one of four stationed at the Coast Guard base at Haneda – back to the earthquake zone loaded with food and water.
The aircraft arrived back at Haneda from its second mission at 2.30am local time and left the hanger of the base again at 4.45pm, the official said.
The collision occurred at 5.47pm, authorities said.
In normal times, the Coast Guard tends to fly in the mid-morning when runways are less busy, the official said, adding that the airport was “very busy” on the day of the accident.
Miyamoto, the pilot, also had a busy schedule.
The day before, he had been on a seven-hour mission to Japan’s southernmost island Okinotori, where he had been surveying a Chinese vessel off its waters. He returned at around 5pm, just after the earthquake struck.
At that point, his mission the next day was not scheduled, the official said.
Miyamoto suffered severe burns as a result of the crash and could not be reached for comment.
The official said he had been a captain for nearly five years and had clocked up 3,641 hours of flight time.
The destroyed aircraft – JA722A – was the only Japan Coast Guard plane that was not destroyed when a 2011 tsunami hit Sendai airport in northeast Japan, according to an official Coast Guard newsletter.
It suffered some water damage but was restored and returned to Haneda the following year.
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