Shocking scenes unfolded as a Japan Airlines commercial flight was engulfed in flames while careening down the runway after a harrowing collision upon landing, sending ripples of fear worldwide over the fate of the passengers onboard.
On 2 January, Japan Airlines Flight 516 had been given the green light to land by the control tower; however, disaster struck when it collided with a smaller Japanese coastguard aircraft, which was due to deliver aid to victims of the powerful New Year’s Day earthquake.
Five individuals perished when the Airbus A350 struck the smaller plane. Remarkably, all 379 passengers — including flight crew — aboard the commercial flight escaped alive 18 minutes after the collision, just moments before the aircraft became engulfed in flames.
Japan’s Fire and Disaster Management Agency reported that 17 passengers sustained injuries. According to JAL, as reported by the BBC, one passenger on Flight 516 suffered bruises, and 13 others sought medical attention due to physical discomfort.
Footage inside the aircraft showed passengers seated, listening to the flight crew’s instructions while orange flames blazed outside their windows. While some panicked, shouting to be let off, none rushed the door, complicating the flight crew’s efforts to prepare for evacuation.
It took between five to 15 minutes to open the exits, with some crew members resorting to megaphones due to a malfunctioning PA system. Five of the eight exits were deemed unusable due to the fire.
Eventually, passengers began escaping the inferno via emergency inflatable slides at three exits: the left and right sides at the front and the left side near the back.
Media-quoted experts lauded the flight crew’s professional execution of the evacuation procedure and expressed amazement at the minimal casualties, especially considering the potential dangers of opening emergency exits near a fire, reminiscent of the 1985 Manchester Airport disaster.
Online footage depicted passengers fleeing the plane without hand luggage, a factor many experts attribute to the swift evacuation. This underscores a critical aspect of all airlines’ safety briefings: aircraft manufacturers must demonstrate that everyone on board can evacuate within 90 seconds for international certification.
However, achieving this depends on passengers adhering to safety instructions, particularly regarding not retrieving luggage. The 2016 fire of an Emirates Boeing 777, Flight UAE521, that crash-landed at Dubai International Airport highlighted this issue, as passengers attempted to retrieve bags from overhead compartments despite the urgency.
The reasons for not attempting to take your luggage during emergency evacuations are straightforward. Luggage in overhead bins may have shifted during impact, and items under seats might be out of reach.
Opening overhead bins risks causing injuries from falling luggage. Retrieving items creates obstructions and delays, leading to potential injuries as other passengers attempt to exit. Moreover, smoke or power failures may reduce visibility, and aircraft damage can increase the risk of tripping and injury.
Blocked exits pose another threat. Cabin crew must evacuate passengers quickly, leaving no time or space for luggage storage at exits. Abandoned luggage can block exits, forcing passengers to seek alternative routes.
Additionally, evacuating with luggage can hinder personal protection, slow down the evacuation, obstruct exits, and even damage the inflatable slides.
For those concerned about losing valuables, the best practice is to keep essential items like phones, passports, and cash on their person. If you are carrying valuables that can’t be held on you, it’s wise to insure them.
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