The Tokyo District Court on Monday acquitted two air traffic controllers charged with professional negligence in almost causing two Japan Airlines jumbo jets to collide in January 2001 over the Pacific Ocean off Shizuoka Prefecture.
Prosecutors had demanded a one-year prison term for 31-year-old Hideki Hachitani and a 1 1/2-year sentence for 37-year-old Yasuko Momii for mistaking the flight numbers of the two jets when issuing instructions. Both defendants had pleaded not guilty.
Presiding Judge Hisaharu Yasui reckoned the defendants could not have foreseen the impending accident and there was no causal relationship between the mistaken flight numbers and the mishap.
He added that it was “unsuitable” to hold the individuals involved, including controllers and pilots, criminally liable over the injuries sustained in the incident.
The near-miss caused about 100 passengers and crew members on one of the planes to be injured when the captain put the jet in a dive to avoid the collision. The controllers had been charged with causing injuries to 57 passengers who filed criminal complaints with police.
The incident occurred at around 4 p.m. on Jan. 31, 2001, when JAL Flight 907, a Boeing 747 bound for Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, ascending from Tokyo’s Haneda airport, and another JAL jet, Flight 958, a DC-10 set to begin its approach to Narita International Airport from Busan, South Korea, came close to each other.
Hachitani, who was training at the time under Momii at the Tokyo Air Traffic Control Center in Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture, mistakenly instructed Flight 907 to descend. The pilot followed those instructions, although the plane’s Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System had said it should ascend.
Meanwhile, Flight 958 followed the instructions of its TCAS and ascended, as a result bringing the two jets even closer to each other, it said.
This caused the pilot of Flight 907 to put the plane into a steep dive.
Momii was accused of failing to recognize Hachitani’s mistake and correct him, and prosecutors had said she bears heavier responsibility as an instructor for not being alert to the error.