In a heartbreaking incident on Tuesday at Tokyo’s Haneda airport, a Japan Airlines passenger plane collided with a Japan Coast Guard aircraft, resulting in the tragic death of five individuals.
The incident unfolded as the passenger plane, carrying 379 people, collided with the coast guard flight while on the ground. Despite the fiery collision, all passengers and crew aboard the Japan Airlines aircraft were successfully evacuated, providing a glimmer of relief amidst the chaos, according to Japanese Transport Minister Tetsuo Saito.
Tragically, five out of the six crew members on the smaller coast guard plane, which was en route to central Japan following Monday’s earthquake, lost their lives. Saito reported that the captain survived but sustained injuries. At this point, authorities are not able to provide a conclusive explanation for the cause of the accident.
Eyewitness accounts and footage circulated on social media depicted the Japan Airlines (JAL) airliner moving along the runway before a sudden eruption of vivid orange flames and dark smoke engulfed the aircraft. Videos posted on various platforms, including X, showed passengers using inflatable emergency slides to evacuate the plane as flames erupted from the rear.
This tragic incident serves as a somber reminder of the potential risks and uncertainties that can arise in air travel, highlighting the importance of thorough investigations to determine the root causes of such accidents and prevent their recurrence in the future.
All 367 passengers plus 12 crew onboard were swiftly taken off the plane before dozens of fire engines with flashing blue lights sprayed the fuselage.
They however failed to put out the flames coming out of windows near the wings and the blaze soon engulfed the entire aircraft.
The plane, reportedly an Airbus 350, had arrived from New Chitose Airport serving Sapporo on the northern island of Hokkaido. Those on board included eight children.
“Smoke began to fill the plane, and I thought, ‘this could be really bad'”, an adult male passenger told reporters at the airport.
“An announcement said doors in the back and middle could not be opened. So everyone disembarked from the front,” he said.
A female passenger said it had been dark on board as the fire intensified after landing.
“It was getting hot inside the plane, and I thought, to be honest, I would not survive,” she said in comments shown on broadcaster NHK.
‘Sense of mission’
The coast guard plane had been preparing to fly to Ishikawa prefecture to deliver supplies after the devastating New Year’s Day earthquake which killed at least 48 people.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida praised the deceased crew members on their way to help the victims of the quake.
“These were employees who had a high sense of mission and responsibility for the affected areas. It’s very regrettable,” he told reporters.
“I express my respect and gratitude to their sense of mission,” Kishida said.
JAL said the passenger plane either collided with the other aircraft on a runway or a taxiway after it touched down, Kyodo reported.
There was also burning debris on the runway at Haneda, one of the world’s busiest airports.
Haneda suspended domestic flights, according to its website, but most international takeoffs and landings were still operating.
A transport ministry official said investigations into the incident were ongoing, including exchanges between the flights and air traffic control.
Japan has not suffered a serious commercial aviation accident in decades.
Its worst ever was in 1985, when a JAL jumbo jet flying from Tokyo to Osaka crashed in central Gunma region, killing 520 passengers and crew.
That disaster was one of the world’s deadliest plane crashes involving a single flight.