Well-Trained Crew Led ‘Miracle’ Evacuation of Burning Plane; Passengers Did Their Part by Following Instructions

Courtesy of a JAL passenger
Passengers escape from a Japan Airlines plane using an evacuation slide

It has been called a “miracle” that all 379 people aboard Japan Airlines Flight 516 successfully escaped the flames after the plane collided with a Japan Coast Guard aircraft at Haneda Airport on Tuesday.

All the passengers and crew on Japan Airlines Flight 516 were taken to safety within 18 minutes after landing in flames. Foreign media outlets expressed surprise and admiration, calling the life-saving evacuation miraculous.

The flight from New Chitose Airport in Hokkaido landed on the airport’s Runway C at 5:47 p.m. on Tuesday, carrying passengers, including tourists, some traveling as families.

Immediately after the plane’s tires hit the runway with a thud, the passengers were horrified by the jolts and shocks as if they were being pushed up from below.

A 28-year-old company employee from Mizuho, Tokyo, who was seated in the left rear section of the plane, immediately noticed fire coming from the side of the wing. As smoke filled the cabin, the passenger began to feel the heat of the flames.

According to another passenger, smoke began to drift inside less than a minute after landing. Video footage shows the cabin is filled with smoke by 5:51 p.m.

A flight attendant called out, “Please stay calm” and “Cover your nose and mouth and stay low.” Many passengers bent over to avoid inhaling the smoke.

Courtesy of a JAL passenger
Passengers crouch in the smoke-filled cabin of Japan Airlines Flight 516 at Haneda Airport in Tokyo on Tuesday.

Some confused passengers angrily shouted things like, “Let us out now!” and “Why don’t you just open up the exit?”

The evacuation began from two exits at the front section and one at the left rear of the plane. Passengers pushed each other toward the escape slides.

The flight attendants asked the passengers to calmly take their turn to escape, according to sources.

A passenger in a seat in the middle of the aircraft said he took about 10 minutes to escape after landing, and another passenger in the back said it took him about 15 minutes to escape safely.

According to Japan Airlines Co., the captain and other crew members checked each row to see if there were any passengers who had not escaped. They urged passengers who remained in their seats to move forward. One of the crew had the quick thinking to open the emergency exit at the rear of the fuselage, the company said.

After successfully evacuating the passengers, the captain and crew descended to the runway at 6:05 p.m., 18 minutes after landing. About 10 minutes later, the plane was engulfed in flames with a loud explosion.

Japan Airlines said emergency evacuation drills are held once a year for all crew members. They spend a full day confirming the operation of emergency doors and other procedures.

“Each crew member must have assessed the flame situation and selected the appropriate emergency exit to guide the passengers,” aviation critic Yoshitomo Aoki said. “The passengers did not panic and followed the instructions, which led to this result.”