A Japan Airlines flight, connecting the northern city of Sapporo to Tokyo’s Haneda airport, burst into flames on Tuesday in what was one of the worst accidents in the country’s aviation history. The Airbus A350 collided with a smaller Coast Guard plane shortly after landing, erupting into a fireball that claimed the lives of five Coast Guard crew members.
Japanese investigators are scrambling to understand how a coast guard plane nearly collided with a passenger jet preparing to land at Haneda Airport. The airline involved has said that the jet had received landing clearance.
What followed the collision has been described as nothing short of miraculous – all 379 passengers and crew members managed to escape the engulfed aircraft unharmed.
But how did they manage to escape?
According to news agency Reuters, Satoshi Yamake, a 59-year-old telecoms sector worker, was on board, returning to the capital after visiting relatives. As the aircraft touched down, anticipation for a reunion with his wife turned to terror when a rattling and a bang resonated through the cabin, followed by the sight of flames outside his window.
The collision occurred immediately after landing at 5:46 pm (0846 GMT), with the airline suggesting that the captain, despite receiving permission to land, likely couldn’t see the smaller Coast Guard plane below. Authorities are now investigating the unusual circumstances surrounding the crash.
Despite the severity of the situation, the evacuation and rescue operations were nothing short of extraordinary. A Reuters report claims Genki Miyamoto, the 39-year-old captain of the Coast Guard plane, managed to escape the wreckage and radio his base, reporting the explosion on the runway. The cabin of the passenger jet quickly filled with smoke. Yet, the response of the crew and the efficiency of the evacuation procedures prevented what could have been a catastrophe.
In video footage shared with Reuters, one passenger can be heard shouting for help, while a child screams for the doors to be opened. Tsubasa Sawada, a 28-year-old Tokyo resident, recalled thinking he was going to die when the fire started. However, he highlighted that despite the initial panic, the crew swiftly deployed evacuation chutes, ensuring an orderly exit for passengers.
“I really thought I was going to die,” Sawada said, as quoted by Reuters. “After the accident happened, I was laughing a bit at first when I could see some sparks coming out (of the engine) but when the fire started, I realised it was more than just something.”
Footage captured on social media platform X shows the aircraft coming to a halt on its nose, with a ball of fire erupting from underneath and thick black smoke billowing from the rear.
Outside the aircraft, a massive firefighting effort involving 115 units worked tirelessly to control the blaze that started at the back of the plane and eventually engulfed the entire aircraft. Passengers were seen descending inflatable slides from a burning airplane. Miraculously, all passengers were evacuated within less than 20 minutes of the plane coming to a stop.