Japan Airlines’ A350 airplane is on fire at Haneda international airport in Tokyo, Japan January 2, 2024. Photographer Issei Kato
All 379 passengers and crew of a Japan Airlines plane miraculously escaped from a fire following a collision with a Coast Guard aircraft at Tokyo’s Haneda airport on Tuesday, but five of the six crew of the coast guard plane were killed.
The Coast Guard said the collision involved one of its planes that was headed to Niigata airport 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 48 people.
“I felt a boom like we had hit something and jerked upward the moment we landed,” a passenger on the Japan Airlines flight told Kyodo news agency. “I saw sparks outside the window and the cabin filled with gas and smoke.”
Live footage on public broadcaster NHK showed the Japan Airlines (JAL) (9201.T) Airbus (AIR.PA) A350 aircraft bursting into flames as it skidded down the tarmac shortly before 6 p.m. (0900 GMT).
It was later overwhelmed by the blaze despite feverish efforts by rescue crews to control the fire. But not before all 367 passengers and 12 crew were evacuated.
Japan’s Transport Minister Tetsuo Saito confirmed that five of the coast guard aircraft’s crew had died. The captain of the aircraft, a Bombardier-built Dash-8 maritime patrol plane, was injured.
Broadcaster NHK, citing the Tokyo Fire Department, said at least 17 of the people evacuated from the passenger plane were injured.
Shortly after the collision, an air traffic controller told pilots: “Airport is closed, Haneda airport is closed,” according to recordings on liveatc.net.
Footage and images shared on social media showed passengers shouting inside the smoke-filled cabin and running across the tarmac away from an evacuation slide.
A spokesperson at Japan Airlines said its aircraft had departed from New Chitose airport on the mountainous northern island of Hokkaido.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida instructed relevant agencies to coordinate to assess the damage swiftly and provide information to the public, according to his office.
Transport minister Saito said the cause of the accident was unclear and the Japan Transport Safety Board (JTSB), police and other departments would continue to investigate. The collision occurred shortly after landing.
“The transport ministry will attempt to resume the operations of Haneda airport as soon as possible,” Saito said.
Haneda is one of the two main airports serving the Japanese capital. JAL’s rival Japanese airline ANA (9202.T) said it had cancelled 112 domestic flights departing and landing at Haneda for the rest of Tuesday due to the runway shutdown.
Kaoru Ishii, a mother who was waiting outside the arrival gate for her 29-year-old daughter and boyfriend coming back on the flight 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.”