Miraculous Survival of 379 People in Plane Fire: What Contributed to It?


Miraculous Survival of 379 People in Plane Fire: What Contributed to It?

The extraordinary survival of nearly 400 people in a plane fire incident on January 2 has been attributed to the swift evacuation of passengers within 90 seconds, with everyone leaving their belongings behind.

The collision between a Japan Airlines commercial Airbus A-350 and a Japanese coast guard plane at Haneda Airport resulted in the tragic loss of at least five crew members dispatched for earthquake rescue. Authorities are still investigating why both aircraft were on the runway simultaneously. Despite the chaos, the successful evacuation of all passengers and crew from the burning Airbus A-350 is considered miraculous. The plane was engulfed in flames upon landing, resembling a fireball, accompanied by thick smoke.

Efficient Crew Evacuation

Aviation industry experts unanimously agree that the rapid response of the crew played a crucial role in saving nearly 400 lives on the flight. Within seconds of the aircraft coming to a halt, emergency slides were deployed, and all passengers were efficiently evacuated, disregarding the smoke-filled cabin.

According to a pilot from a major European airline, speaking on CNN, “I am particularly impressed with the crew and passengers. What happened resembled an evacuation under the most adverse conditions, almost textbook-like. We are in a good era of aviation where planes are becoming more advanced, and training crews to handle unexpected situations has been emphasized for decades.”

This individual added that procedures have improved as planes have grown larger. All passengers can be evacuated within 90 seconds. Flight attendants on some airlines can now initiate evacuation immediately upon recognizing an emergency situation, without waiting for the captain’s request, saving crucial minutes.

PilotsTogether, a charitable organization supporting airline crews, concurs with this viewpoint.

Graham Braithwaite, a professor of safety and accident investigation in the United States, commented that Japan Airlines’ crew had “performed in an exemplary manner.” “Safety training that airlines – in this case, Japan Airlines – require crews to undergo regularly has produced results. To me, one takeaway is that passengers need to pay attention to safety instructions and remember that flight crews are not just service personnel but well-trained safety experts,” he said.

International Safety Standards and Tragic Precedents

International minimum safety standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) mandate that crews must practice emergency evacuations annually. Aircraft manufacturers must also demonstrate that any aircraft can fully evacuate passengers within 90 seconds.

Experts emphasize that this regulation is “written in the blood of those unfortunate souls lost in previous aviation disasters.” A similar incident occurred in 2019 when an Aeroflot plane caught fire during landing in Moscow, resulting in 41 out of 73 people on board losing their lives. In 1980, Saudi Arabian Airlines Flight 163 faced an emergency landing, but the pilots did not order an evacuation, leading to the deaths of all 301 people on board due to smoke inhalation.

Another major event affecting safety regulations was the British Airtours disaster in 1985 at Manchester Airport in the UK. The plane caught fire after takeoff and stopped on the runway. Despite rapid firefighting efforts, 55 people died, mainly from smoke inhalation due to not evacuating in time. This incident prompted experts to make changes to some cabin designs and materials to enable passengers to evacuate more quickly and slow the spread of toxic smoke in case of a fire.

Leaving Belongings Behind During Evacuation

Erlich, a passenger on the plane, recounted that passengers on Japan Airlines Flight JAL516 evacuated without bringing their carry-on luggage—a common practice in emergency evacuation videos. Mika Yamake, a relative with a husband on the plane, also told CNN: “My husband walked out with his mobile phone. He had to leave everything else behind.”

“Any delay in evacuation can lead to a disaster. Sometimes things go wrong just because we want to take our laptops or personal bags. This incident could have been much worse if passengers did not leave their belongings,” Erlich said.

A pilot from a major European airline believes this is a challenge for airlines related to cultural aspects. Some people prioritize carrying their possessions over their safety and that of others. Leaving everything behind and getting out as fast as possible is the only priority. At that point, everyone will have the highest chance of survival.

In fact, this regulation is included in the safety instructions of all airlines. In the event of an emergency, passengers are required to leave all belongings behind, follow the instructions of flight attendants, and move toward the emergency exit. The passage on the plane is narrow, so if someone stops to retrieve their belongings or pulls along cumbersome items, it can jeopardize those behind them.

Expert Braithwaite also suggests that passengers need to be more focused while on a plane. “A few weeks ago, I sat next to someone on a plane. He did not listen when the flight attendant gave safety instructions because he believed that if something happened, there was no way to survive. But today, nearly 400 people in Japan proved the opposite,” he said.

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