BANGKOK (AP) — The swift and safe evacuation of a Japan Airlines jet that caught fire after hitting a Coast Guard aircraft while it was landing Tuesday at Tokyo’s Haneda airport reflects a dogged dedication to safety and training by the airline, and hard experience from past disasters.
JAL set up a Safety Promotion Center at the airport in 2006 to reflect lessons learned from the Aug. 12, 1985, crash of Flight 123 into a mountain north of Tokyo. It was the world’s worst single-aircraft disaster, killing 520 people with only four survivors. JAL staff maintain a memorial at the site at Otsuka Ridge and new employees climb to it to pay their respects.
“In the face of the pain and grief of the bereaved families and public distrust in airline safety, we pledged we would never again allow such a tragic accident to occur,” the airline says on its website.
Only 17 people suffered slight injuries when fleeing the Airbus 350 via evacuation slides and running for their lives Tuesday evening as the plane blazed. Five people on the Japan Coast Guard’s Bombardier Dash-8 plane were killed and the pilot survived with serious injuries.
International aviation safety organizations use a 90-second benchmark for evacuating all passengers during emergency drills. Such drills must be done once a year and all crew members and flight attendants must pass the test, JAL spokesperson Keiko Miyoshi said.
Airline safety analysts credited the rapid evacuation of Tuesday’s flight to stringent training and passengers who heeded instructions and left their belongings behind.
A crash at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in May 2019 illustrated the hazards of trying to bring bags along in an evacuation after a Sukhoi SSJ100 jet caught fire in a hard emergency landing, killing 41 of the 78 people on board. Some of the 37 survivors were seen on video carrying hand luggage as they plunged down an inflatable slide from the plane’s forward section, raising questions about whether grabbing their baggage might have impeded the evacuation in which every second could separate life from death.
JAL reported no serious aircraft accidents in 2023. But like any other airline, it occasionally is caught slipping up. Last month, it posted a written apology for “multiple inappropriate cases” at its subsidiary JAL Engineering after receiving a warning from the Transport Ministry.
During Tuesday’s accident, the aircraft’s announcement system malfunctioned, the company said, so flight attendants had to use megaphones and shout to clear the plane using three emergency slides. Videos posted by passengers showed people covering their mouths with handkerchiefs as they ducked down and moved toward the exits in an orderly way.
All slid down the escape chutes within 20 minutes of the landing as smoke filled the cabin of the burning aircraft.
It’s an exercise airlines all over the world prepare for and part of the training at both Japan Airlines and its rival All Nippon Airways that has become legendary, portrayed in manga comics, TV series and films like “Attention Please,” a movie based on a 1970s comic strip that has been remade at least twice, and “Good Luck,” which features an up-and-coming young pilot.
An investigation into the 1985 crash found various problems with the aircraft and how the emergency was handled, though it also concluded that nearly all aboard would have died instantly, with no opportunity to escape.
The training center exhibits debris from the JAL 123 crash, information on the history of aviation safety learned from accidents, and safety pledges written by employees. JAL staff carry a card with the company’s safety charter on it, which calls for them to “never rely on assumptions” and to take any safety concern seriously.
Yamaguchi contributed from Kyoto, Japan.
Copyright 2024 EuroJournal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.