What if the Haneda Crash Had Occurred in the US?

By Robert Mark on January 5th, 2024

I saw the videos of the raging firestorm engulfing the A-350 on a runway before I heard any of the audio on Tuesday,  so I assumed the accident had occurred here in America. From the pictures alone, the loss of life should have been mind-numbing. Considering how many close calls we had last year at major airports in the US, my assumptions were justifiable, some 19 serious near collisions. A serious near collision is about as close as two aircraft can come without metal scraping metal.

Once I pumped up the sound on our widescreen though, I learned the accident had happened on the runway at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. A Japan Airlines A-350 and a Japanese Coast Guard Dash-8 regional aircraft had collided during the early evening hours. I watched the growing orange glow of the Airbus sliding to a stop after the collision and wondered how anyone could have survived.

Miraculously though, all 379 passengers and crew aboard the Airbus escaped with only a few minor injuries reported. The crew of the Dash 8, which apparently was sitting on the runway in the path of the Airbus, did not fare as well. The aircraft was destroyed claiming the lives of five crewmembers. Only the Dash 8’s captain survived and is listed in critical condition with severe burns.

The A-350 is certified to be capable of an emergency evacuation in less than 90 seconds. Although it took some 18 minutes to evacuate the A-350 that night, the initial and recurrent training of the eight flight attendants aboard the Japanese airliner is most likely the reason everyone escaped with their lives. This accident would have made for a nightmare of a training scenario for any crew during recurrent because the inferno outside blocked five of the eight emergency exits. That number eventually dwindled to just two.


A key factor in the survivability of all aboard the Airbus was that almost no one stopped to grab any of their carry-on baggage. While we still have no idea just why the evacuation took as long as it did, imagine the results if people had swarmed toward those few exits while hundreds of others blocked the aisles trying to grab their laptops or overcoats.

A flight attendant friend told me today she doubted whether as many people would have survived a similar accident had it occurred here in the US, despite the superb training of our flight attendant force. The reason? Americans are considerably more stubborn and self-absorbed, she said.  “I think it’s their [Asian] culture to abide by rules,” she told me of the Tokyo passengers. “During an emergency, passengers over here are told to leave everything behind, ” she said. “But you should see the pictures of the luggage piled near the galley exits that flight attendants have grabbed as passengers attempted to drag them down an emergency slide.” Many people simply don’t realize they’re risking their lives as well as the lives of others around them by their actions. My friend told me to consider the persona of a US flight attendant. “We have a complete [but a well-earned] lack of respect for and the general assumption that our passengers are simply uneducated humans. I think non-compliance with a flight attendant’s directions here would be more common than compliance.”

At first, her comments scared the Hell out of me. But then I thought about what the men and women who are charged with the safety of an aircraft cabin experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic simply trying to get passengers to comply with the federal mandates in place back then. And how often are they dragged into the middle of an airborne brawl with a drunken passenger or two who just refuse to listen?

Now, I don’t find her accusations of the flying public all that startling.

I just hope we don’t prove her predictions as true.

Rob Mark


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4 Responses to “What if the Haneda Crash Had Occurred in the US?”

  1. Roger Harris Says:

    I’ve thought a lot about this cultural difference. The initial news reports were conflating the certification requirements for evacuation and said that it took 90 seconds. And nobody hurt. I was astounded.

    But then I read that it was almost 18 minutes. Now that seemed like a long time to me – especially given that the fire was raging and visible everywhere.

    So… while I get what you’re saying about Americans and American culture, I wonder if the “can do” assertiveness/aggressiveness might have actually led to a FASTER evacuation. Still, the luggage is an issue we won’t really be able to know.

  2. Robert Mark Says:

    Can do spirit … hmmm. I must admit I hadn’t thought of that Roger. Thanks for raising that point.

  3. Chris Says:

    Rob, first I commend you for calling them near collisions. I’m so tired of hearing the press call them near misses.
    The JAL accident is a lesson for all airlines it especially people who fly to pay attention.
    The Japanese people as a culture are very disciplined.. they follow instructions. The JAL safety briefing video clearing talks about in an emergency evacuation to forget your carry on bags. Don’t see this in the USA.
    But you nailed it about the American persona. How many even pay attention to the safety briefing? How many think about if they have to get off this airplane quickly what they should do?
    But my bigger concern here in the US is just how much they allow personal animals in the cabin, then we now have airlines like SWA that allow severely obese people to take up two of more seats (at no charge!) then think about people who need wheelchairs assistance. Now imagine there’s an emergency such as JAL and trying to get these people off for how they’ll hamper evacuations with limited exits available.
    I’m not suggesting we not allow these individuals to fly but I am suggesting that airlines start getting more serious about considering limitations.

    I have much respect for FA’s. It’s so true they are there for our safety.
    Thank you.

  4. Robert Mark Says:

    Serious thoughts here Chris. I just hope we don’t learn some new lessons the hard way.

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