By Miwa Suzuki
TOKYO – An Asiana Airlines plane smashed into a communications antenna as it came in to land at a Japanese airport, footage showed Wednesday, injuring 27 people in an accident with echoes of the Korean airline’s fatal 2013 crash in San Francisco. Aerial footage from Hiroshima airport in western Japan showed the localiser — a large gate-like structure, six metres (20 feet) high that sits around 300 metres from the start of the runway — splintered, with debris spread towards the landing strip. Sets of wheel marks were visible on the grass area in front of the runway, while large fragments of the localiser — part of the instrument landing system — were on the tarmac. Several hundred metres away, skid marks showed the Airbus A320 had careered off the runway Tuesday and rotated more than 90 degrees.
What appeared to be a chunk of the localiser was seen dangling from one wing and emergency escape chutes were deployed. Those on board flight OZ162 from Incheon, near Seoul, to Hiroshima, spoke of terror and confusion. “There was smoke coming out and some of the oxygen masks fell down. Cabin attendants were in such a panic and I thought ‘We are going to die’,” a woman told Japanese networks late Tuesday, adding some people were bleeding. A man wearing a neck brace said he “saw flames, and smoke filled the plane”. All 73 passengers and eight crew evacuated safely but 27 people were injured, Japanese officials said. Hiroshima police have started an on-site investigation on suspicion of professional negligence resulting in injuries, Jiji Press said. The airport is equipped with a sophisticated landing system, which can provide full assistance on direction and altitude when planes approach from the west, it said. But the Asiana plane was approaching from the east because of wind direction, preventing the pilot — reportedly a veteran from South Korea — from being able to make full use of the system, media said.
San Francisco echoes The South Korean carrier said 18 passengers — 14 Japanese, two Koreans and two Chinese — had been hurt. Only one of them had to stay overnight in hospital. There was no explanation for the discrepancy between Asiana and Japanese authorities. “Asiana Airlines apologises for causing concern to the passengers and the people over the accident,” it said in a statement. “Asiana Airlines has immediately set up a response team to cope with the aftermath. “As to the determination of the cause of the accident, we will cooperate as closely as possible with the relevant authorities.” An Asiana spokeswoman told AFP in Seoul the firm was checking Japanese news reports that the flight was approaching the runway at a lower altitude than normal before it grazed the nearby communications tower. Tuesday’s accident had echoes of an Asiana flight that crashed in San Francisco in July 2013, killing three people and leaving 182 injured. US investigators concluded that a mismanaged landing approach in a highly automated cockpit was the probable cause of the accident, in which a Boeing 777 clipped a sea wall with its landing gear and then crashed and burst into flames. The South Korean Transport ministry ordered a 45-day suspension of Asiana Airlines’ service to San Francisco as a penalty. The cause of Tuesday’s accident was not yet known but “it looks very similar to the San Francisco” incident, said Akira Maene, a former pilot at leading Japanese carrier All Nippon Airways. “Passengers’ lives were saved because the angle of hitting (the runway) was shallow,” he told the private Fuji network. “It was just one step away from a major disaster.”