A Japan Airlines plane collided with a Japan Coast Guard aircraft while landing in Tokyo on Tuesday, causing the passenger jet to burst into flames and killing Coast Guard members on the other plane bound for earthquake relief efforts. The airline said that all 367 passengers and 12 crew members on its plane were safely evacuated at Haneda Airport, according to NHK, the public broadcaster. Five crew members on the Coast Guard plane were killed, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said during a news conference.
The Coast Guard members had been en route to deliver supplies to the region affected by the powerful earthquake that struck western Japan on Monday, Mr. Kishida said. “They were filled with a determined sense of mission, and it is extremely regrettable and distressing what has happened to them,” the prime minister said. “I express my profound condolences to their surviving families.”
The airline drew praise for being able to safely evacuate 367 passengers under what was likely to have been enormous pressure. “The cabin crew must have done an excellent job,” Paul Hayes, the director of air safety at Ascend, a British-based aviation consultancy, told Reuters. “It was a miracle that all the passengers got off.”
Mr. Kishida added that government ministries would work to ensure that the crash did “not affect relief efforts” after the earthquake, which killed at least 48 people. Footage aired by NHK showed the Japan Airlines plane on fire as it streaked across a runway. The broadcaster reported that the plane, Flight 516, had departed New Chitose Airport in the northern prefecture of Hokkaido and was scheduled to land at Haneda at 5:40 p.m.
Live footage after 6 p.m. showed firefighters trying to douse flames pouring out of the plane, an Airbus A350-900. The Coast Guard plane involved in the collision was a fixed-wing MA722, according to Naoko Kobayashi, a Coast Guard representative. The Associated Press reported that Anton Deibe, 17, a Swede who was a passenger on the plane, told the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet that “the entire cabin was filled with smoke within a few minutes” of the collision “We threw ourselves down on the floor. Then the emergency doors were opened and we threw ourselves at them.”
During a news conference late on Tuesday, Shigenori Hiraoka, director general of the civil aviation bureau at the transport ministry, said he could not confirm any details about the collision or anything about communications between either plane and the air traffic control tower. The Kyodo news agency of Japan quoted a passenger who described feeling like the plane had hit something before it then jerked upward. The passenger, who was not identified, then told of seeing sparks outside the window and the cabin filling with gas and smoke.
Yoshio Seguchi, deputy director of the Japan Coast Guard, apologized for the burden caused by the crash but also offered few details about the cause of the accident. He said that the Coast Guard aircraft had started taxiing to the runway around 4:45 p.m., about an hour before the collision.
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