Jetliner buzzes sea after Naha miscue

Kyodo

A jetliner dived to a dangerously low altitude of just 248 feet above the ocean during its landing approach to Naha airport in Okinawa Prefecture on Monday after the pilot mistook instructions from air traffic controllers, the transport ministry said.

The Airbus A320-200, owned by Japanese budget carrier Peach Aviation Ltd., had 59 passengers and crew aboard. Despite the miscommunication, the jet climbed in time to avoid crashing and landed safely after being alerted by a ground proximity warning system, the ministry said Tuesday. No one was injured.

The aircraft was in “a dangerous situation as it could have crashed into the sea,” a ministry official said.

The 45-year-old Argentinian captain of the plane, which was headed for Naha from remote Ishigaki Island further southwest near Taiwan, said he mistakenly believed the controllers told him to descend when it was 7 km north of the airport, according to the ministry. Visibility is believed to have been low at the time due to rain.

The Japan Transport Safety Board is set to probe the incident by sending investigators to Kansai airport, where Peach Aviation is based.