5 dead in Japan after passenger plane collides with coast guard aircraft carrying earthquake relief

A passenger on the Japan Airlines plane described how the cabin was engulfed in smoke within minutes.

Anton Deibe, 17, of Sweden, told NBC News that the plane was about to land when he looked to his left and saw “flames all over the windows.”

“The plane starts to shake and all the lights turn dark and everyone starts screaming in Japanese, and I can’t understand anything,” said Deibe, who was traveling with his parents and sister. “My first thought was that maybe we had hit a bird; I had no clue. But the plane continued to shake, and then we touched down on the ground. And it felt like we’d like slide.”

“The black smoke started to infiltrate the cabin … and you had a hard time breathing. So I took my hoodie, the only piece of equipment I still have left — everything else is burned down — and covered my face,” he said. “Then, after a while, they finally they opened the doors, and everyone, they ran out and then you had to jump out of the plane.”

NHK reported the plane was JAL Flight 516, which had taken off from New Chitose Airport in the northern Japanese region of Hokkaido at 4:15 p.m. local time (2:15 a.m. ET), according to FlightAware.

Japan Airlines said it was interviewing the crew.

“The plane entered the runway in a normal manner and started normal landing procedure before there was impact and caused this accident, we have confirmed up to this point. But anything beyond that, the investigation is ongoing,” Managing Executive Officer Tadayuki Tsutsumi said at a news conference.

NBC News aviation analyst John Cox said Tuesday that investigators will look at air traffic control tapes to figure out what happened as the JAL flight was cleared to land and for some reason the Japanese coast guard plane was on that same runway. 

“They’re going to want to interview the captain who survived the coast guard flight. They’re going to interview the crew of the JAL flight. So they’re going to look at all the air traffic — the air traffic transmissions as well as to see what the airplanes actually did, if those instructions were properly followed,” he said. 

Yoshio Seguchi, an official from the coast guard, expressed his condolences.

“The loss of the life of our irreplaceable employee is a matter of the utmost regret,” he said.

Haneda Airport, also known as Tokyo International Airport, was the busiest airport in the Asia Pacific region in 2023, according to global flight data provider OAG.

In 2023, a series of high-profile near-collisions and close calls at U.S. airports prompted the Federal Aviation Administration to host a safety summit. Cox said the Japan crash is likely to reinforce the National Transportation Safety Board’s concerns.

Arata Yamamoto reported from Tokyo and Larissa Gao from Hong Kong.