An aerial view shows burnt Japan Airlines' (JAL) Airbus A350 plane after a collision with a Japan Coast Guard aircraft at Haneda International Airport in Tokyo, Japan January 3, 2024, in this photo taken by Kyodo.
An aerial view shows burnt Japan Airlines' (JAL) Airbus A350 plane after a collision with a Japan Coast Guard aircraft at Haneda International Airport in Tokyo, Japan January 3, 2024, in this photo taken by Kyodo. Image Credit: Reuters

TOKYO: After landing, smoke filled the cabin and flames licked the windows, but the Japan Airlines crew got all 367 passengers safely off the aircraft in an orderly fashion - and just in time.

Babies and children screamed and panic-stricken passengers begged to be let off, footage from the scene on Tuesday at Tokyo's Haneda Airport showed.

"Honestly, I thought we wouldn't survive. So I texted my family and friends to say that my plane is burning, right now," a woman told broadcaster NHK.

How it happened

After arriving from Hokkaido in the north, the Japan Airlines Airbus collided with a coast guard plane and caught fire as it sped down the runway.

It careened to a halt after the front landing gear failed, but all 379 passengers and crew managed to escape down two emergency slides before the plane was engulfed in flames.

The smaller coast guard vessel was heading to deliver aid to earthquake-hit central Japan. Five of the six personnel died.

Fearing the worst

A Japan Airlines (JAL) passenger plane is seen on fire on the tarmac at Tokyo International Airport at Haneda on January 2, 2024. A Japan Airlines plane was in flames on the runway of Tokyo's Haneda Airport on January 2 after apparently colliding with a coast guard aircraft, television reports said. Image Credit: AFP

Those on board JAL's Airbus liner feared that could have been their fate.

"It felt like we abruptly hit something. Then the fire started, like, 'bang!'" a male passenger told broadcaster TBS.

"The smell of smoke was in the air, and the doors were not opening. So I think everyone panicked," a woman told reporters at the airport.

Eight children were on board the passenger plane. In one video clip, a young voice can be heard shouting: "Please let us out. Please. Please open it. Just open it. Oh, god."

'Evacuating promptly and efficiently'

The plane landed at 5:46 pm (0846 GMT) and everyone was off just under 20 minutes later, Japan Airlines told a briefing on Tuesday night.

Aviation experts said it was a carefully rehearsed and executed evacuation that stopped the plane from turning into a death trap.

"Passengers seemed to have followed instructions in a textbook manner," Terence Fan, an airline industry expert from Singapore Management University told AFP, with others praising those on board for leaving their cabin bags behind.

"This is exactly what evacuation policies are designed for - the airframe itself is not meant to survive the blaze, ultimately."

Not a 'lucky escape'

A Japanese Airlines plane seems to have caught fire after crash landing at Haneda Airport Image Credit: @FlightEmergency/X

David Kaminski-Morrow, air transport editor at aviation news website FlightGlobal said: "I wouldn't personally call the successful evacuation of the JAL flight a 'lucky escape', although the passengers might believe so."

Instead, he added, an efficient evacuation showed "what can be achieved by evacuating promptly and efficiently".

Passenger William Manzione told Sky News that "everything was really quick".

"When I saw the inflatable slide, I understood this was bad. I took my son ... Then I turned around and saw the aeroplane with the nose completely smashed and the flames all over the back," he said.

After 10 minutes on the tarmac, the flames had spread and a loud noise, like at take-off, came from one of the engines.

Biggest moment of fear

"That was the biggest moment of fear for me and the other passengers, because the feeling was like, 'this is about to explode'," he said.

"The crew in that moment start shouting to run altogether away from the airplane, (but) eventually nothing happens, so it's good."

Other emotional footage showed a mother waiting for her teenage son who was on the plane, rushing to hug him when he emerged.

And a young boy expressed his relief and gratitude to the cameras: "To people at JAL and to God, I want to say thank you so much."

Miracle air crash evacuations

Miraculous air disaster survivals, of the kind that saw all 379 Japan Airlines passengers and crew escape a wall of flames about to engulf their jet at Tokyo's Haneda Airport, are extremely rare in aviation history.

Here are three other heroic air evacuations:

2005: crew praised after Toronto crash

On August 2, 2005, an Air France Airbus A340 arriving from Paris overshot the runway and landed in a ravine just outside Toronto's Lester B. Pearson International Airport.

All 297 passengers and 12 crew members were able to evacuate before a fire consumed most of the fuselage.

The operation took under two minutes, with around 40 people suffering only minor injuries.

Officials praised the crew for the speedy evacuation, with the co-pilot singled out for checking the plane before exiting last and advising rescue crews.

2009: 'Miracle on the Hudson'

Image Credit: AP

Pilot Chesley Sullenberger was hailed as a hero in January 2009 for saving all 155 passengers and crew on US Airways flight 1549 by conducting a miraculously soft landing in the Hudson River.

The Airbus had just taken off from New York's LaGuardia airport for Charlotte in North Carolina when both engines stopped, apparently after a collision with birds.

Following an extraordinarily skillful landing, frantic passengers scrambled out onto the airplane wings, the chilly river water lapping at their feet. Ferryboats steamed to the rescue as the aircraft slipped under the water.

Image Credit: AP

New York governor David Paterson hailed the near-disaster as the "Miracle on the Hudson". The story was made into the movie "Sully" starring Tom Hanks as the pilot.

2019: hostess decorated for saving 43

On June 27, 2019, a small Antonov An-24 aircraft overshot the runway by around 100 metres at Nizhneangarsk in eastern Siberia, crashing into a building before catching fire.

The only female member of the cabin crew, Elena Laputskaya, managed single-handedly to evacuate the 43 passengers of the flight. She was decorated for her bravery by President Vladimir Putin.

Laputskaya survived along with the co-pilot but the pilot and another crew member died.

The plane belonging to the regional airline Angara was travelling from Ulan-Ude near the border with Mongolia.