Japanese investigators on Wednesday probed a near-catastrophic collision at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport between a coast guard plane and a passenger jet that airline executives have said was given permission to land.
Five people on the coast guard aircraft died, but all 379 passengers and crew escaped to safety down emergency slides minutes before the Japan Airlines Airbus was engulfed in flames late Tuesday.
The burned-out husk of the airliner, still sitting on the tarmac Wednesday, bore witness to just how narrow their escape had been.
The captain of the coast guard plane — which had been carrying aid to the New Year’s Day earthquake zone — was its lone survivor but suffered serious injuries.
Footage on Tuesday showed a ball of fire erupting and thick black smoke from underneath the airliner shortly after landing and coming to a halt on its nose after its front landing gear failed.
Passengers could be seen sliding down inflatable slides as flames shot out from the rear of the aircraft in video posted to social media platform X.
As the plane was evacuated, dozens of fire engines with blue and red flashing lights tried to douse the flames but the entire plane was soon engulfed and it took eight hours to finally extinguish the blaze.
“As soon as we landed, the was a ‘bang’. And I noticed a blaze rising from the right side,” a female passenger on board told broadcaster NHK.
“It was getting hot inside the plane, and I thought, to be honest, I would not survive.”
“I thought we landed normally. But then I realised I was smelling smoke. I looked outside and it was already burning,” a woman with a small child told NHK.
“I needed to protect my daughter. That was only thing in my mind.”
Government officials pledged to investigate how the incident happened in a country that had not seen a serious commercial aviation accident for decades.
Asked at a briefing late Tuesday night whether the Japan Airlines flight had secured landing permission from air traffic control, officials at the major carrier said: “Our understanding is that it was given.”
But JAL and the land ministry declined to comment directly on exchanges between flight controllers and the two planes, citing the ongoing investigation.
In a recording from Haneda’s control tower apparently taken in the moments before the collision, available on a site that broadcasts live air traffic signals, a voice can be heard advising JAL’s flight to “continue approach”.
Some domestic flights were operating on Wednesday morning from Haneda, one of the world’s busiest airports, but dozens were cancelled.
France’s Airbus, which manufactured the JAL plane, said it would send a team of specialists to help Japanese authorities investigate.
The passenger plane had arrived from New Chitose Airport serving Sapporo on the northern island of Hokkaido. Those on board included eight children.
The coast guard plane had been preparing to fly to Ishikawa prefecture to deliver supplies after the devastating New Year’s Day earthquake that killed at least 62 people.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida praised the dead 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,” he said Tuesday.
In 1985, 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.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)