JAL jet passengers recount 18 minutes of terror while awaiting escape

Passengers on the Japan Airlines Co. plane that collided with a Japan Coast Guard aircraft at Tokyo's Haneda airport on Tuesday have recounted experiencing around 18 minutes of terror marked by explosions and flames as they waited to be evacuated.

The JAL Airbus A350 had jolted violently upon impact, and looking outside through the windows, passengers could see its left engine and wing engulfed in flames.

According to JAL, the collision occurred at 5:47 p.m., with everyone evacuated by 6:05 p.m. The escape of all 379 passengers and crew has been widely praised, with some foreign media describing it as a "miracle." The aircraft was subsequently swallowed up in flames.

Hiroshi Kaneko, a 67-year-old university professor from Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, who was seated on the front right of the airplane, said he felt it jerk forward during landing then veer to the right before finally coming to a stop.

He could hear the word "engine" being thrown around, and flames started to rise. "We need to evacuate quickly," he shouted, but the crew repeatedly urged passengers to remain calm.

As the sounds of explosions continued, Ryosuke Sakamoto, a 55-year-old from Tokyo, who was also seated on the right side of the aircraft, noticed an orange glow outside the window near the engine and remarked to the person next to him, "It's strange it's red."

A 40-year-old male passenger from Tokyo, seated at a window seat in the rear of the airplane, said the fire approached his seat first and "then smoke began flowing from the middle (of the aircraft) around five minutes later. Crew cabin were discussing which doors could be opened."

Many passengers have recounted seeing flames rising from the engine and left wing during landing.

The captain had announced that the cause of the fire was unknown, while the cabin crew instructed passengers to stay still and keep their bodies low to the ground. According to JAL, they guided passengers to three emergency exits deemed safe to evacuate using megaphones and or by shouting as they could not use the flight announcement system.

A 45-year-old female medical worker said there were moments of confrontation between passengers eager to escape and crew instructing them to return to their seats.

A 52-year-old male doctor from Tatebayashi, Gunma Prefecture, who was seated in the front row, went down the evacuation slide first and then assisted other passengers. Everyone was in a panic, and some fell, he said.

"It was frightening to think that the (airplane) could go up in flames and explode," he said.

After he had finished assisting, he embraced his wife and 12-year-old daughter on the runway, who had gone ahead to move away from the aircraft. He praised the calm coordination of the cabin crew, saying, "They seemed well-trained."

© Kyodo News