NARITA, Chiba Pref. — A FedEx cargo jet crashed on landing and burst into flames Monday morning at Narita International Airport, killing the pilot and copilot and closing the main runway.
Transport ministry and other investigators believe the accident may have been caused by strong northwesterly winds buffeting the MD-11 as it attempted to land at around 6:50 a.m.
Winds of up to 72 kph were blowing in the airport’s vicinity at the time and a wind-shear alert had been issued.
The aircraft, Flight 80 from Guangzhou, China, had flammable liquid aboard, according to the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry. It took about two hours to extinguish the blaze.
The bodies of Capt. Kevin Kyle Mosley, 54, and copilot Anthony Stephen Pino, 49, both Americans, were pulled from the cockpit at around 8 a.m., Chiba police said.
Masamichi Ujiie, a vice president in charge of FedEx’s Asia-Pacific operations, declined to say what cargo the airplane was carrying as the company “is still investigating.”
“We do not know (the pilot’s career history) due to strict regulations protecting privacy” and “we do not currently know” the airplane’s flight history, he also said.
Video footage showed the aircraft bounce hard on its main gear and nose gear before cartwheeling into a ball of fire as it tried to land on Narita’s longest runway.
The runway was closed after the crash, causing incoming flights to be diverted, according to the transport ministry.
“We don’t know yet for sure when we can reopen the runway,” a ministry official said in the afternoon. Some of the runway lights were broken in the crash, he added.
As of the afternoon, the runway closure had caused 65 Japan Airlines flights and 17 All Nippon Airways flights to be canceled, affecting about 20,000 passengers in total. Some flights were diverted to other destinations, including New Chitose Airport in Hokkaido, Haneda airport in Tokyo and Chubu airport in Aichi Prefecture, according to the transport ministry.
Narita airport was only able to use its shorter parallel runway.
Winds hitting 76 kph were recorded in the city of Narita at the time of the crash, the Meteorological Agency said.
It was the first fatal aircraft accident at the airport since it opened in 1978, although in-flight turbulence caused a fatality aboard a jet that landed there.
The video footage showed the MD-11 first touch down on its main gear, then the nose slammed down.
The aircraft subsequently bounced up and fell on its left wing, bursting into flames.
The plane then flipped upside down and slid off the runway with flames exploding from the center of the fuselage.
A local observatory said it had notified airlines and related entities of the possibility of wind shear — a condition in which wind speeds and direction suddenly change — after the weather became rough Sunday evening.
Strong winds and turbulence have caused other recent incidents at Narita airport.