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Passengers Speak of JAL Plane Fire at Haneda

The Yomiuri Shimbun
People watch a JAL plane in flames on the runway at Haneda Airport at 6:55 p.m. Tuesday.

Tokyo (Jiji Press)—Passenger of a Japan Airlines flight that caught fire after colliding with another plane when it landed at Tokyo’s Haneda airport on Tuesday spoke of the horrible incident, which occurred during the New Year holiday period.

“There was a sudden impact just before landing. I saw fire in the engine, so I evacuated desperately while trying to remaining calm,” Yasuhito Imai, 63, a company executive from Mitaka, Tokyo, said. He took the flight to return from a trip to Sapporo, the capital of the northernmost Japan prefecture of Hokkaido, and his hometown.

Just before the landing, there was an impact, not from a touchdown but from possibly hitting something, and he heard many passengers scream, according to Imai. The flight was full of passengers.

Imai said he realized that something happened as flight attendants called on passengers to stay calm and evacuate without panicking.

He saw fire coming out of the aircraft’s engine and escaped from the plane using an evacuation slide following instructions from a flight attendant. “I think all people aboard could evacuate in less than 10 minutes, but I was worried as the fire grew bigger,” Imai recalled.

“Children were crying, and some people were shouting, but we could evacuate without panicking,” Imai said, expressing his gratitude to other passengers and crew members.

In the incident, JAL Flight 516, which flew from New Chitose Airport in Hokkaido, burst into flame after colliding with a Japan Coast Guard aircraft during the JAL aircraft’s landing at Haneda airport. All 379 passengers and crew members of the JAL flight escaped from the plane while five of the six people aboard the JCG aircraft were confirmed dead.

“There was a strong impact soon after the plane touched down,” Manabu Kotake, 58, a company worker in Sapporo, said, adding that he noticed flames rising when he looked out the window of the aircraft. His seat was near the engine.

He said he did not feel heat but smelled something burning.

Kotake said: “At first, I thought it was a puncture. But as I saw the engine fall apart, I panicked that I may not be able to survive.”

“I heard a loud sound, and the engine caught fire at the same time,” a male passenger, 59, said. Passengers evacuated after flight attendants asked them to stay calm, he said.

He said he was surprised to see the burning plane, but added, “I think there was no confusion among passengers.”

“There was a large amount of smoke (inside the plane),” Tsubasa Sawada, a 28-year-old corporate worker, said.

“Visibility was poor, and I felt my life was in danger,” Sawada said.

Mika Yamake, 50, was at Haneda’s arrival lobby to see her husband, who was arriving back aboard the JAL flight, when the accident occurred.

Yamake said she learned about the incident as she received a phone call from her husband. The call was cut off after the husband told her that he saw smoke inside the plane.

About 30 minutes later, the husband called Yamake again to inform her that he safely escaped from the aircraft. “I’m now on the runway. It’s cold,” he told his wife on the phone.

A woman in her 70s saw the JAL plane in flames at the airport after her grandchild, an elementary school pupil, told her: “Look. It’s burning.” The woman said she saw red sparks flying high on the runway, adding that it was scary.