You may have seen the video yesterday. A Japan Airlines flight collided with a Japanese Coast Guard airplane at Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport. Within minutes the airliner was completely engulfed in flames.
🚨 How did all 379 passengers on board this #JapanAirlines flight JA516 survive this?!!
Massive respect to the cabin crew and rescue personnel at Tokyo-Haneda airport.
Humanity shines in times of need.pic.twitter.com/7DFddezq6q
— Suraj Balakrishnan (@SurajBala) January 2, 2024
When I saw the video I assumed we were going to be hearing about a massive death toll, but thankfully that wasn’t the case. Multiple people in the smaller Coast Guard plane were killed but everyone onboard the Japan Airlines plane made it off safely, nearly 400 people. Outside observers are putting that down to the excellent training by JAL.
…while, tragically, five of six crew on the Japan Coast Guard Dash 8 plane it struck during landing on Tuesday have died, all 379 passengers and crew onboard the Airbus A350 have survived the accident.
While investigations into what happened in the incident, which saw the JAL plane erupt in a fireball, are ongoing, experts say the successful evacuation is down to a combination of modern safety standards and Japan Airlines’ own rigorous safety culture.
“From what I saw on the footage, I was surprised and relieved that everyone got out,” says Graham Braithwaite, professor of safety and accident investigation at the UK’s Cranfield University.
“It’s such a severe impact for any aircraft to have to withstand. But knowing what I know about that airline, and how much effort they put into safety and into crew training, the fact that they did do such a good job shouldn’t be such a surprise.”
Another factor here is that the passengers remained incredibly calm under the circumstances even as the cabin began filling with smoke. The crew on the flight were shouting instructions and telling everyone what to do. No one was climbing out of their seats or screaming in panic in a situation where I’m sure everyone was feeling it.
All 400 passengers and crew on Japan Airlines safe. JAL staff amazing. How can everyone get out?
— Fat Cat 🌐 (@FATCAed) January 2, 2024
Unlike the safety briefings you usually on US flights, JAL plays a video which includes how to evacuate the plane quickly in case of an emergency.
Amazing how Japan Airlines crew managed their passengers (complete) to immediately evacuate safely after the collision because of this Safety video before take off. Kudos👍👍 #JapanAirlines #JAL #HanedaAirport pic.twitter.com/hZGGcTObiz
— j.pa (@jeipapa) January 3, 2024
And it seems the passengers all did the right thing:
“I think the crew did a fabulous job,” Ed Galea, a professor and leader of the Fire Safety Engineering Group at London’s University of Greenwich, said in an interview Wednesday…
Eyewitnesses described experienced flight attendants directing relatively calm passengers. “When the plane stopped, in less than one minute, the cabin was full of smoke,” Aruto Iwama told Reuters news agency. “There was screaming, but most people were calm and stayed in their seats, sitting and waiting. I think that’s why we were able to escape so smoothly.”…
“I heard an explosion about 10 minutes after we all got off the plane. I don’t think we would have made it if we evacuated later,” said Tsubasa Sawada, 28, according to Reuters. “All I can say is that it was a miracle.”…
In most accidents, especially those in Europe and the United States, Galea said, passengers try to take their luggage with them. In footage of this flight, Galea said, “I didn’t see a single person with their luggage, not a single person.”
Investigation into the accident is still preliminary but so far it appears the Coast Guard plane did not have permission to be on that runway.
Air traffic control gave the JAL passenger plane permission to land on Runway C at 5:43:26 p.m. local time (3:43:26 a.m. ET), according to the transcript.
However, the transcript does not show clear takeoff approval for the coast guard aircraft, instead telling it to “taxi to holding point” at 5:45:11 p.m. (3:45:11 a.m. ET). The crew of the coast guard plane confirmed the instruction seconds later, according to the transcript.
About two minutes later, the JAL flight collided with the coast guard plane on the runway, according to the timestamp on airport surveillance video.
Transport Secretary Saito told reporters Wednesday that the incident is “still being investigated” and the next step will be to listen to the audio recording of the conversation between the coast guard pilot and flight control tower.
Here’s an interview with one of the survivors who says he at first thought his life was over. No doubt this was traumatic for everyone involved but the fact that they are all still here really does strike me as amazing.