A Japan Airlines passenger plane carrying 379 people collided with an earthquake relief aircraft and erupted into flames upon landing at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport on Tuesday evening around 5:45pm local time.
The Japan Airlines Airbus A350, Flight 516, had flown from New Chitose Airport in Sapporo and was attempting to land on Runway 34L at Haneda when it struck a De Havilland Dash 8 aircraft operated by the Japan Coast Guard. The Dash 8 was getting ready to take off and deliver relief supplies to areas affected by the 7.5-magnitude earthquake that struck Japan’s northeastern coast on Monday.
After the collision, the Japan Airlines jet scraped down the runway while engulfed in flames before coming to a stop. All 367 passengers and 12 crew members successfully evacuated using emergency slides. At least 17 passengers suffered minor injuries like burns and smoke inhalation, and 4 were hospitalized.
Meanwhile, 5 of the 6 crew members on the Coast Guard plane were killed in the accident. The captain survived with injuries and is currently hospitalized.
Passenger accounts describe hearing a loud boom upon landing and seeing sparks and flames around the wings. Smoke quickly filled the cabin as flight attendants urgently directed everyone to evacuate.
“It was terrifying, but the crew was very calm and professional. They got everyone off safely,” said one passenger.
Airport officials report that the Japan Airlines pilot had received landing clearance and did not report any technical issues before the crash. The cause is still under investigation, but there is speculation that the runway collision occurred due to miscommunication or oversight between air traffic control, the JAL cockpit, and the Coast Guard crew.
Haneda Airport, one of Tokyo’s two major airports, was temporarily closed after the incident but later reopened at reduced capacity. Over 100 flights were cancelled.
Japan’s Transport Minister Tetsuo Saito issued a statement praising the Coast Guard members who lost their lives while carrying out their duties of earthquake relief. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida also expressed his condolences and said the government would work to minimize impact on aid deliveries to affected regions.
The accident marks a tragic start to 2024 for Japan Airlines. It is the first serious crash involving the relatively new Airbus A350, which entered service globally in 2015. The aircraft was destroyed by the intense blaze, which took hours for firefighters to extinguish.
This is the deadliest aviation accident in Japan since 2019. Haneda Airport management says they will conduct a full review of procedures and communication to understand how the tragedy occurred.