Japanese plane crash: Five crew members killed, hundreds evacuated safely

TOKYO (AP) — A passenger jet and a Japan Coast Guard plane collided on the runway at Tokyo's Haneda Airport on Tuesday and burst into flames, killing five people aboard the smaller plane, officials said.

Transport Minister Tetsu Saito confirmed that all 379 people on board Japan Airlines flight JAL-516 got out safely before the plane caught fire. Saito said the pilot of the Coast Guard plane escaped but the five crew members died.

Tuesday's accident was the first time one of the Airbus A350s, among the industry's newest large passenger planes, had been seriously damaged. It entered commercial service in 2015. Airbus said in a statement that it would send specialists to assist Japanese and French authorities, and that the plane was delivered to Japan Airlines in late 2021.

The Minister of Transport said that the A350 plane took off from Shin Chitose Airport near the city of Sapporo.

A Japan Airlines plane catches fire on the runway at Haneda Airport on Tuesday, January 2, 2024 in Tokyo, Japan. A passenger plane collided with a Japanese Coast Guard plane and burst into flames on the runway at Tokyo's Haneda Airport on Tuesday, officials said. (Kyodo News via Associated Press)

Coast Guard spokesman Yoshinori Yanagishima said its Bombardier Dash-8 plane, based in Haneda, was scheduled to head to Niigata to deliver relief supplies to residents affected by the typhoon. Deadly earthquake In the area on Monday. The Dash-8 turboprop engine is widely used on short-haul flights and passenger flights.

Coast Guard Deputy Commander Yoshio Seguchi told reporters that the Coast Guard pilot informed his base that his plane exploded after colliding with the commercial plane.

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Shigenori Hiraoka, head of the Civil Aviation Bureau at the Ministry of Transport, said the collision occurred when the JAL plane landed on one of Haneda's four runways where the Coast Guard plane was preparing to take off. Transportation safety officials were analyzing contact between flight control officials and the two planes and planned to interview JAL officials to determine the cause of the collision.

Hiraoka praised JAL for “taking appropriate measures” to safely evacuate all passengers and crew members.

“The entire cabin was filled with smoke within a few minutes,” Swede Anton Deby, 17, a passenger on the Japan Airlines plane, told the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet. We threw ourselves on the ground. Then the emergency doors opened and we threw ourselves at them.

“The smoke in the cabin stung as hell. It was hell. We had no idea where we were going so we ran out into the field. It was chaos,” Debbie added.

Another passenger told NHK TV that the cabin attendants were calm and asked everyone to leave their luggage behind, then all the lights went out and the temperature inside the cabin began to rise. The passenger said she feared she would not get off the plane alive.

In this image taken from video, a Japan Airlines plane catches fire on the runway at Haneda Airport on Tuesday, January 2, 2024 in Tokyo, Japan.  (NTV via AP)

In this image taken from video, a Japan Airlines plane catches fire on the runway at Haneda Airport on Tuesday, January 2, 2024 in Tokyo, Japan. (NTV via AP)

A Japan Airlines plane catches fire on the runway at Haneda Airport on Tuesday, January 2, 2024 in Tokyo, Japan.  A passenger plane collided with a Japanese Coast Guard plane and burst into flames on the runway at Tokyo's Haneda Airport on Tuesday, officials said.  (Kyodo News via Associated Press)

A Japan Airlines plane catches fire on the runway at Haneda Airport on Tuesday, January 2, 2024 in Tokyo, Japan. (Kyodo News via Associated Press)

The Minister of Transport said that officials are doing their best to prevent any delay in the delivery of relief materials and other operations to the affected area. Transport officials said the airport's three other runways had reopened.

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Haneda is the busiest of the two major airports serving the Japanese capital, with many international and intercontinental flights. It is particularly favored by business travelers due to its proximity to the central parts of the city.

The twin-engine, twin-aisle A350 is used by a number of international long-haul airlines. According to Airbus, more than 570 aircraft are in operation.

Japan Airlines operates 16 A350-900 aircraft, according to its website. It recently announced details of the 13 newer A350-1000 aircraft it plans to introduce into service, saying it will become “the new leader in international service after almost 20 years”. The first of those planes arrived a few weeks ago, and was scheduled to travel the Haneda-New York JFK route.

The International Air Transport Association's trade group said on the X social media platform that its thoughts were with those on board the two planes, saying that “the last two days have been difficult for Japan.”

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Yamaguchi reported from Kyoto, Japan. Adam Schreck in Osaka, Japan, and Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.

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