Sunday’s fatal plane crash in Chofu, western Tokyo, has incited fears among residents of the normally quiet neighborhood that they might be involved in a similar accident in the future.
The accident, in which a light plane slammed into a residential area, left three people dead, five injured, and several houses in flames.
The propeller-driven aircraft crashed at around 11 a.m., soon after it took off from nearby Chofu Airport. The crash site was only 400 meters from a junior high school.
“The airport is so close from here and it has always scared me seeing planes fly so low,” said a woman in her 30s who lives near the crash site. “But I had never imagined something like this would happen.”
Company executive Kazuyuki Rokutanda, 65, who also lives nearby, said: “I couldn’t get any sleep last night, thinking it could happen to me, too.”
The Tokyo Fire Department said the fire damaged or destroyed nine houses. The odor of smoke lingered at the crash site and wafted through nearby streets. Pieces of the plane’s wreckage were still left untouched.
Nozomi Suzuki, 34, lived in one of the houses that burned, and perished in the flames.
Rokutanda said he would often hear Suzuki’s dogs barking, which made him think the victim’s house was full of life.
According to Suzuki’s neighbors, she had just moved in with her mother. The house belonged to Suzuki’s grandparents and until recently had been empty after their death. The mother survived the fire.
The woman’s neighbors recalled Suzuki as a good-natured and caring person as well as a dog lover who had around 10 puppies. Some of the neighbors said it appeared she had saved one of her dogs from the flames.
Eri Fukushima, 42, who heads the local community association, said the victim’s mother had come by to greet her a week before the accident, saying she had just moved in.
“She seemed very polite,” Fukushima said.
A woman living near the Suzukis said that soon after the plane crashed, she had seen a woman wearing pink clothes sitting on the second floor of the burning home with a puppy in her arms. She said the flames had surrounded the woman and were drawing closer to her.
A man who also lives in the neighborhood said he saw a woman, believed to be Nozomi Suzuki’s mother, standing in front of the house carrying a dog in her arms and screaming, “My daughter is inside!” and “Where’s the ambulance?”
“I think the daughter must have thrown the dog (through the window) to save it,” the man said.
A 63-year-old woman from a housing complex where Suzuki had lived before moving to the house where the crash occurred said she had often seen the 34-year-old woman taking care of her much younger brother.
“I thought she was still living here; I can’t believe she was involved in such an accident,” the woman said.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government, which operates Chofu Airport, asked on Sunday that pilots of private planes not to fly at the facility until the cause of the crash is determined and measures to prevent a recurrence are implemented.
The officials said they planned to resume regular flights between Chofu and islands south of Tokyo as soon as they could confirm that the airport’s runway is safe and that the guidance system is functioning correctly.
Aviation safety concerns had been raised in Chofu before the crash. On Sunday, Chofu Mayor Yoshiki Nagatomo said he had previously asked the metropolitan government to reduce the number of private planes using the airport and beef up safety measures.
“I would like to express my deep regret over the accident,” Nagatomo said. “I’m going to provide as much support as possible to everyone affected.”
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