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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Haneda Airport collision strands Carleton students

On Jan. 2 at 5:47 p.m., Japan Airlines Flight 516 collided with a smaller Coast Guard aircraft in Haneda Airport, Japan.

The smaller Bombardier Dash-8 was preparing to take and deliver aid to central Japan, where an earthquake hit. But, 40 seconds after it entered the runway, JAL 516 –a large passenger airliner told it was allowed to land – touched down on the same runway and collided with the Bombardier. The smaller aircraft was engulfed in fire while JAL 516, covered in smoke and flames, continued down the runway for 0.62 miles before stopping. 

All 379 passengers aboard the JAL 516 were evacuated and escaped the fire. Five of six crew members on the Coast Guard plane were killed. The fire was not extinguished until midnight, after the plane had been burning for over six hours.

Several Carleton students flying from Haneda Airport were left stranded there, and their arrival to campus was delayed to Jan. 4.

Barry, an international student from Japan, recounted his experience at Haneda airport: “I was just waiting until my departure time, and it didn’t depart on time. So I was like, ‘Wait, what’s going on?’ [During] he first announcement, the flight attendant and the captain told me that they don’t have enough fuel to get to Minneapolis. They have to turn off the engines.

“I was stuck on a plane. No moving at all, not taking off, not anything for about five hours. If the airport is shut down because of the plane[s] crash, can we not go back to the gate, get my baggage, and come back home? I wasn’t angry by any means, but I was more like, I’m confused and ‘Okay, what’s going on?’ I just wanted to know more. Then I read the article on the plane and thought it was really tragic for them.”

After his flight was canceled, Barry took a ¥9000 ($60) taxi and returned home. He talked with an airline agent and was able to reschedule his flight. 

“It was nice to be in Japan for an extra few days, but at the same time, I just needed extra time and catching up to get back on work and everything,” Barry said. 

Another student, Sunny, described her experience in Haneda Airport. 

“So, I was originally having a layover at Haneda airport, and my flight was from PBG to Haneda, then headed to Minneapolis by Delta Airlines. And then, after I arrived at Haneda, I was on my second plane. We were about to take off

After I got on the plane, I started to sleep. When I woke up, I realized that I was still on the ground. So I chatted with my neighbor about what happened, and they told me there was an accident at the other end of the airport, which caused the airport to shut down. That night our flight was canceled, and I was rescheduled to one that took off on Jan. 4.

I chose that specific flight because it does not require a Japan[ese] visa, and I didn’t expect to leave the airport. But after my flight was canceled, the nearest flight was two  days. From then on, I had to leave the airport [to go] to the hotel. At the border examination, I waited for four  hours to confirm my rescheduled flight and for the airline staff to issue a shore transit pass for me.

I met some other Chinese uncles and aunties when I was waiting for the short pass that Japan issued to me. We got together and booked a hotel, and stayed together for the two days.” She explained, “Also, hotels nearby were fully booked that day, and luckily my friend helped me book a hotel thirty minutes away and I went there by taxi.”

Sunny also recounted that she encountered several challenges while trying to reschedule her flight and book a hotel. 

“There were a lot of challenges on the way. The major one, I would say, is language because when I was stuck in Japan, lots of the staff at the airport didn’t know how to speak English….They just looked at me, and they wanted to help but couldn’t. Also, I think the Delta staff [were] not very responsive. After the flight was canceled. I [could not]find almost any Delta staff at the airport to help us with rescheduling. I did it through the messaging app they have. 

“After we leave the airport, we need to book our hotels by ourselves. We need to go on to the hotel website[s], which I don’t understand, it was in Japanese [laugh]. One of my mother’s friends was in Japan and he helped us book all the hotels.”

She added, “I remember last year, there was a winter storm here in Minnesota, and lots of people just [could not] arrive on campus due to the weather condition[s].”

When asked about how this delay impacted their arrival back to school and what could have been done, Barry acknowledged that little could have been done regarding accommodations. 

He added:“I think the school could have told the professor, like what’s going on [and] what is affecting [students]. I emailed my three professors, and they understood the situation. I think the school could have informed them in advance because they have 24 hours between the time of the incident and when a class starts.”

Sunny explained that she felt relatively lucky, “For my three classes, one of them was remote for the first week because my faculty was out on a conference, I think.

“So the first week of that class is remote in many lectures, and then for my second class, so I just missed one class. Because my third class is on Tuesday and Thursday afternoon[s], I arrived on campus on Jan. 4 at 1:30 [p.m.] and I got to my second class.”

Liz Cody, the Director of Intercultural & International Life, offered some suggestions: “I think the biggest first step is reaching out. That could be reaching out to me [or] reaching out to the class dean to let them know of your situation first.” 

“So, connecting with faculty and staff at Carleton, making sure that Residential Life knows that they’re coming late. And for me and the Dean of Students Office, typically, when we get that information, we would pass it along so that other people at Carleton are also aware.”

Cody adds that the logistics pose the largest problem. “The more information provided, the better. I know a lot of students don’t necessarily want to seek help, or they know they can figure out how to make it work. But when big situations like what happened in Japan recently, [or] war[s] that are happening, [or] when airlines just cancel a lot of flights, I think the more information that can be provided, the more likely it is to get support from the college.”

“So if a student doesn’t share any information, sometimes it’s hard to get that empathy or compassion. Because no one’s aware, right? And we like to go in with the best intentions,” Cody continues. “But emergencies arise, family emergencies arise. If a student is able to share why [they are delayed] with the faculty, with the dean, with anyone on the campus, then it’s more likely that they’re going to get support, because we know what’s going on and then we know how to best address it.”

Cody stressed that students should never feel that emailing or reaching out may inconvenience faculty end, as  faculty are there to help students. “So I would say that students should never be worried about inconveniencing faculty or staff. If a situation arises when they’re trying to travel, if it’s a flight or a visa issue, anything related to getting back to campus on time, [or a] family emergency, it’s great to reach out and let us know. Because the sooner we know, the more likely it is that we can help, and help in a way that is going to make it easier on the student, and also on everyone at Carleton.”

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