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How all 379 passengers of Japan Airlines plane survived crash and burn on Haneda Airport runway

By NICK GARCIA Published Jan 03, 2024 11:40 am

No one from the 367 passengers and 12 crew members of a Japan Airlines plane died or sustained serious injuries before it burst into flames following a collision on the runway of Tokyo’s Haneda Airport last Jan. 2.

In a statement, Japanese Transport Minister Tetsuo Saito said all 379 people on Japan Airlines flight JAL-516 safely escaped Airbus A350 after colliding with a Bombardier Dash-8 aircraft of the coast guard.

Five coast guard crew members, however, died. The pilot managed to escape the aircraft, which was preparing to take off to assist victims of an earthquake.

How were the individuals aboard Airbus A350 pulled off what seemed impossible?

Robert Sumwalt, a former United States National Transportation Safety Board chair, told CBS News that one factor was the “crash-worthiness of modern jetliners today.” Sumwalt noted that the interiors of newer airplane models are built to withstand fire, and their side walls don’t burn quickly like previous models.

Safety consultant John Cox told the Associated Press that the aircraft’s fuselage or main body likely protected the passengers from the fire by not burning through for a period of time.

According to AP, the A350’s fuselage is made from carbon-composite fibers instead of the conventional aluminum skins.

The airline’s evacuation procedures were also attributed to the safe outcome, with a Japanese transport ministry official noting they were “conducted appropriately.” 

Cox told AP the cabin crew had “good training” and “did a remarkably great job” getting passengers out of the plane.

One passenger, Satoshi Yamake, told Reuters that the flight attendants had told them to stay calm and instructed them to get off the aircraft.

Another passenger told NHK that they were told to leave their baggage behind as the lights went off and the cabin temperature started rising.

For his part, passenger Tsubasa Sawada told Reuters that their survival was a "miracle."

"We could have died if we were late," Sawada said. "I want to know why this happened and I feel like I don't want to board a plane again."

Japanese Airlines said four passengers were taken to a medical facility, while NHK reported that 14 were injured.