China Airlines Jet Explodes Upon Landing in Okinawa
TOKYO — A China Airlines jet exploded into flames at an airport in Okinawa after arriving from Taiwan on Monday, but all 165 people aboard escaped alive, officials said. Police said terrorism was not suspected.
All 157 passengers — including two small children— fled the Boeing 737 unhurt on inflated emergency slides just minutes before the plane burst into a fireball, Transport Ministry official Akihiko Tamura told reporters.
China Airlines spokesman Sun Hung-wen told reporters in Taipei the aircraft skidded on the tarmac on its way from the runway to the gate after landing, starting a fire that prompted the emergency exit. The eight-member crew also safely left the plane, Sun said.
"The fire started when the first engine below the main left wing exploded, a minute after the aircraft entered the parking spot," Tamura said.
Accounts of injuries were unclear. Tamura said one crew member had been hurt, but local fire official Hiroki Shimabukuro said two passengers — a 7-year-old girl and a man in his 50s — had been hospitalized because they didn't feel well, not because of specific injuries.
Tamura put the number of passengers at 157, updating the figure of 155 initially provided by China Airlines.
National broadcaster NHK showed footage of a squad of firefighters dousing the empty plane with extinguishers as flames and clouds of black smoke billowed from the fuselage.
"After the plane landed, there were flames, and I heard explosions a few times then saw black smoke," airport worker Hideaki Oyadomari told national broadcaster NHK. "We felt the hot air coming our way."
The cause of the fire, which reportedly began in one of the engines, was unknown. Japan's National Police Agency said terrorism was not suspected.
"The plane landed safely so we are still checking why there was a fire," said Sun.
Taiwan's Civil Aeronautics Administration head Chang Kuo-cheng said authorities have ordered China Airlines and its subsidiary Mandarin Airlines to ground their 13 other Boeing 737-800s pending thorough inspection.
"If there was fire, it might have something to do with oil leak," Chang said, noting the exact cause was not determined.
The Okinawa fire is a setback to China Airlines, which in recent years appeared to have improved on a troubled safety record among international carriers.
A China Airlines 747 crashed in 2002 as it flew Taipei to Hong Ko