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Five killed in Japanese aircraft collision, earthquake deaths hit 50

Five people aboard a Japan Coast Guard aircraft died on Tuesday when it hit a Japan Airlines passenger plane on the ground in a fiery collision at Tokyo’s Haneda airport.

This was as Japanese rescuers battled on Tuesday to find survivors of a New Year’s Day earthquake that killed at least 50 people and caused widespread destruction, AFP reports.

All 379 passengers and crew on board the passenger plane that burst into flames were safely evacuated, Japanese transport minister Tetsuo Saito told reporters.

But five of the six crew members from the smaller plane – bound for central Japan after Monday’s huge earthquake – died, Saito said.

 

The captain escaped and survived but was injured, he said, “We’re not at the stage to explain the cause” of the accident.

All 367 passengers plus 12 crew onboard were swiftly taken off the plane before dozens of fire engines with flashing blue lights sprayed the fuselage.

They however failed to put out the flames coming out of windows near the wings and the blaze soon engulfed the entire aircraft.

The plane, reportedly an Airbus 350, had arrived from New Chitose Airport serving Sapporo on the northern island of Hokkaido. Those on board included eight children.

“Smoke began to fill the plane, and I thought, “This could be really bad,” an adult male passenger told reporters at the airport.

“An announcement said doors in the back and middle could not be opened. So everyone disembarked from the front,” he said.

AFP gathered a female passenger who said it was dark on board as the fire intensified after landing.

“It was getting hot inside the plane, and I thought, to be honest, I would not survive,” she said in comments shown on broadcaster NHK.

Earthquake wreaks havoc

The 7.5 magnitude quake that rattled Ishikawa prefecture on the main island of Honshu triggered tsunami waves more than a metre high, sparked a major fire and tore apart roads.

On the Noto Peninsula, the destruction included buildings damaged by fire, houses flattened, fishing boats sunk or washed ashore, and highways hit by landslides.

“I’m amazed the house is this broken and everyone in my family managed to come out of it unscathed,” said Akiko, standing outside her parents’ tilting home in the badly hit city of Wajima.

The way 2024 started “will be etched into my memory forever,” she told AFP after what she called the long and violent earthquake on Monday.

“It was such a powerful jolt,” Tsugumasa Mihara, 73, said as he queued with hundreds of others for water in the nearby town of Shika.

Japanese news agency Kyodo put the death toll to 57, citing local officials, as rescuers combed through the rubble.

“Very extensive damage has been confirmed, including numerous casualties, building collapses and fires,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said after a disaster response meeting.

“We have to race against time to search for and rescue disaster victims.”

Aerial news footage showed the terrifying scale of a fire that ripped through the old market area of Wajima, where a seven-storey commercial building collapsed. Quake damage impaired rescue efforts to put out the blaze.

Most of the houses in the coastal city of Suzu collapsed, according officials cited by Kyodo.

“The situation is devastating, as about 90 percent of houses have been completely or nearly completely destroyed,” Suzu Mayor Masuhiro Izumiya was reported as saying at a prefectural government meeting.

Almost 33,000 households were without power in the region, which saw temperatures touch freezing overnight, the local energy provider said. Many cities were without running water.

The US Geological Survey said the quake had a magnitude of 7.5. Japan’s meteorological agency measured it at 7.6, and said it was one of more than 210 to shake the region through Tuesday evening.

Several strong jolts were felt early Tuesday, including one measuring 5.6 that prompted national broadcaster NHK to switch to a special programme.

“Please take deep breaths,” the presenter said, reminding viewers to check for fires in their kitchens.

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