Planes collide and catch fire at Japan’s busy Haneda airport, killing 5

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RUNWAY CRASH — Photo taken on Jan. 2 shows a Japan Airlines aircraft on fire on a runway at Haneda airport in Tokyo after it apparently collided with a Japan Coast Guard aircraft while landing. Kyodo News photo

By FOSTER KLUG and MARI YAMAGUCHI Associated Press

TOKYO — A large passenger plane and a Japanese coast guard aircraft collided on the runway at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport on Jan. 2 and burst into flames, killing five people aboard the coast guard plane, officials said.

All 379 people on Japan Airlines flight JAL-516 got out safely before the Airbus A350 was fully engulfed in flames, Transport Minister Tetsuo Saito confirmed.

The pilot of the coast guard’s Bombardier Dash-8 plane escaped but the five crew members died, Saito said. The aircraft was preparing to take off to deliver aid to an area affected by a major earthquake on Jan. 1, officials said.

Television footage showed an orange fireball erupting from the Japan Airlines plane as it collided while landing, and the airliner then spewed smoke from its side as it continued down the runway. Within 20 minutes, all passengers and crew members slid down emergency chutes to get away.

As firefighters tried to put out the blaze with streams of water, the area around the passenger plane’s wing caught fire. The flames spread throughout the plane, which eventually collapsed. The fire was extinguished after about six hours.

The Jan. 2 accident was the first severe damage to an Airbus A350, among the industry’s newest large passenger planes. It entered commercial service in 2015. Airbus said in a statement it was sending specialists to help Japanese and French officials investigating the accident, and that the plane was delivered to Japan Airlines in late 2021.

The A350 had flown from Shin Chitose airport near the city of Sapporo, the transport minister said. The fire is likely to be seen as a key test case for airplane fuselages made from carbon-composite fibers, such as the A350 and the Boeing 787, instead of conventional aluminum skins.

“We don’t know that much about how composites burn,” said safety consultant John Cox. “This is the most catastrophic composite-airplane fire that I can think of. On the other hand, that fuselage protected (passengers) from a really horrific fire — it did not burn through for some period of time and let everybody get out.”

JAL Managing Executive Officer Tadayuki Tsutsumi told a news conference late Jan. 2 that the A350 was making a “normal entry and landing” on the runway, without specifying how it collided with the coast guard plane. Noriyuki Aoki, also a managing executive officer at JAL, said the airline maintains that the flight had received permission to land from aviation officials.

Police are expected to investi-gate the accident on suspicion of professional negligence, NHK television reported.

Coast guard spokesperson Yoshinori Yanagishima said its Bombardier Dash-8 plane, which is based at Haneda, had been due to head to Niigata to deliver relief goods to residents affected by a deadly earthquake in the region on Jan. 1. The turboprop Dash-8 is widely used on short-haul and commuter flights.

The coast guard pilot reported to his base that his aircraft exploded after colliding with the commercial plane, Vice Commander Yoshio Seguchi told reporters.

Shigenori Hiraoka, head of the Transport Ministry Civil Aviation Bureau, said the collision occurred when the JAL plane landed on one of Haneda’s four runways where the coast guard aircraft was preparing to take off. Transport safety officials were analyzing communication between aviation control officials and the two aircraft and planned to interview JAL officials to determine what led to the collision.

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

Swede Anton Deibe, 17, a passenger on the Japan Airlines plane, told Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet that “the entire cabin was filled with smoke within a few minutes. We threw ourselves down on the floor. Then the emergency doors were opened and we threw ourselves at them. The smoke in the cabin stung like hell. It was a hell. We have no idea where we are going so we just run out into the field. It was chaos.”

Another passenger told NHK television that cabin attendants were calm and told everyone to leave their baggage behind, then all lights went off and the temperature inside the cabin started rising. The passenger said she was afraid she might not get off the plane alive.

All passengers and crew members slid down the escape chutes and survived. JAL said four passengers were taken to a medical facility. NHK said 14 other people were injured.

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