Tokyo, Jan 02 (The Street Press) – In a remarkable incident at Tokyo’s Haneda airport on Tuesday, all 379 passengers and crew on a Japan Airlines plane managed to safely escape a fire after colliding with a Coast Guard aircraft. Unfortunately, five out of the six crew members on the coast guard plane lost their lives.
The Coast Guard explained that the collision involved one of their planes en route to Niigata airport on Japan’s west coast. The mission was to deliver aid to those affected by a strong earthquake on New Year’s Day, which tragically claimed the lives of at least 48 people.
A passenger on the Japan Airlines flight shared with Kyodo news agency, “I felt a boom like we had hit something and jerked upward the moment we landed. I saw sparks outside the window and the cabin filled with gas and smoke.”
Live footage on NHK, the public broadcaster, displayed the Japan Airlines (JAL) Airbus A350 aircraft bursting into flames as it skidded down the tarmac shortly before 6 p.m. (0900 GMT).
Despite intense efforts by rescue crews to control the fire, the aircraft was eventually consumed by the blaze. However, before the tragic outcome, all 367 passengers and 12 crew members were successfully evacuated.
Japan’s Transport Minister, Tetsuo Saito, sadly confirmed the loss of five crew members from the coast guard aircraft. The captain of the Bombardier-built Dash-8 maritime patrol plane sustained injuries.
According to NHK, referencing the Tokyo Fire Department, at least 17 individuals evacuated from the passenger plane suffered injuries.
Shortly after the collision, an air traffic controller communicated to pilots, as captured in liveatc.net recordings: “Airport is closed, Haneda airport is closed.”
Videos and pictures circulating on social media depicted passengers shouting within the smoke-filled cabin and rushing across the tarmac, away from an evacuation slide.
A spokesperson from Japan Airlines mentioned that their aircraft had taken off from New Chitose airport on the mountainous northern island of Hokkaido.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has directed relevant agencies to collaborate, swiftly assess the damage, and disseminate information to the public, as per his office.
Transport Minister Saito stated that the cause of the accident remains unclear, and the Japan Transport Safety Board (JTSB), along with the police and other departments, will continue the investigation. The collision occurred shortly after landing.
Saito further expressed the transport ministry’s commitment to resume operations at Haneda airport as promptly as possible.
Haneda is one of the two primary airports serving the Japanese capital. JAL’s competitor, the Japanese airline ANA (All Nippon Airways), announced the cancellation of 112 domestic flights departing and landing at Haneda for the remainder of Tuesday due to the runway shutdown.
Kaoru Ishii, a mother awaiting her 29-year-old daughter and boyfriend outside the arrival gate, shared her initial confusion, thinking the flight was delayed until her daughter called to explain. “She said the plane had caught fire and she exited via a slide,” Ishii said. “I was really relieved that she was alright.”