All 379 people aboard a Japan Airlines (JAL) plane escaped the burning airliner after a collision with a Coast Guard aircraft at Tokyo’s Haneda airport that killed five of six crew on the smaller craft on Tuesday. Live footage on public broadcaster NHK showed the JAL Airbus A350 airliner burst into flames as it skidded down the tarmac shortly before 6 p.m.. “I felt a boom like we had hit something and jerked upward the moment we landed,” a passenger told Kyodo news agency. “I saw sparks outside the window and the cabin filled with gas and smoke.” All 367 passengers and 12 crew were evacuated from the blaze which destroyed the airliner. At least 17 people on it were injured, NHK reported, citing the Tokyo Fire Department.
Transport Minister Tetsuo Saito confirmed that five of the Coast Guard aircraft’s crew had died while the captain of the plane had been injured. A ministry official told a press briefing the JAL plane was attempting to land normally when it collided with the Coast Guard’s Bombardier-built Dash-8 maritime patrol plane on the runway. There had been no reports of engine or other problems on the airliner before the landing, the official said. The Coast Guard said its plane was headed to Niigata on Japan’s west coast to deliver aid to those caught up in a powerful earthquake that struck on New Year’s Day, killing at least 55 people. A JAL official told a press briefing it was the airline’s understanding that the flight had received permission to land, although he added that exchanges with flight control were still under investigation.
Video footage and images shared on social media showed passengers shouting inside the plane’s smoke-filled cabin and running across the tarmac after escaping via an evacuation slide.
“The cabin crew must have done an excellent job… It was a miracle that all the passengers got off,” said Paul Hayes, director of air safety at UK-based aviation consultancy Ascend by Cirium. Kaoru Ishii who was waiting outside the arrival gate for her 29-year-old daughter and boyfriend said she initially though 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.” A JAL spokesperson said its aircraft had departed from New Chitose airport on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido. Haneda, one of the two main airports serving the Japanese capital Tokyo was closed for several hours following the accident, but the transport ministry official said three runways had since resumed operations. JAL’s Japanese rival ANA had earlier said it had cancelled 110 domestic flights departing and landing at Haneda for the rest of Tuesday.
Transport Minister Saito said the cause of the accident was unclear and the Japan Transport Safety Board, police and other departments would continue to investigate. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said authorities were working to ensure the accident did not affect deliveries of earthquake relief supplies. “This is a great regret as the crew members performed their duties with a strong sense of mission and responsibility for the victims of the disaster area,” he said, referring to those killed on the Coast Guard plane.