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Korean Air jet catches fire at Haneda, forcing evacuation

Kyodo, Bloomberg

An engine fire forced a Korean Air jet to scrub takeoff at Tokyo’s Haneda airport on Friday but its 320 passengers and crew managed to evacuate safely, transport ministry and airport officials said.

Seven of the 302 passengers and 17 crew members on the Seoul-bound Boeing 777-300 sustained scratches while using the escape chutes, Korean Air Lines said.

The plane was preparing for takeoff when an air traffic controller noticed that its left engine was on fire, the ministry and airport officials said. The incident was reported to authorities at around 12:44 p.m.

“The airplane halted takeoff after fire broke (out) in the No. 1 engine. All passengers were safely evacuated via slide,” Korean Air said in a statement.

It added that “efforts will be made as soon as possible to determine what caused the defect in the engine.”

A replacement plane was being sent in from Seoul’s Gimpo Airport to bring the passengers to South Korea, the statement said.

The fire occurred as the two-day summit of the Group of Seven major industrialized nations was drawing to a close, but the National Police Agency ruled out the possibility of terrorism, saying no suspicious objects were found.

The incident forced the closure of runway C and the suspension of three other runways at the airport on the edge of Tokyo Bay. They were reopened shortly after 2:30 p.m. after the stricken aircraft was removed, the transport ministry said.

About 100 police and 60 fire vehicles were deployed to the plane to douse the fire.

Live images from Japanese TV broadcasts showed at least two fire trucks blanketing the engine and nearly the entire left side of the plane covered in white foam as smoke came out the back of the engine.

The accident reportedly caused the cancellation of about 300 flights and the rerouting of others to Narita airport in Chiba Prefecture.

Korean Air’s most recent accident was in 2000, when a flap from a Boeing 747 freighter broke off and punctured the fuselage, leaving a one-meter hole, according to the Aviation Safety Network website. There were no fatalities, it said.

On Friday at Haneda, a large crowd was gathered on a wide grassy area next to the runway near the choppy waters of Tokyo Bay.

Many security officers had been deployed to Haneda airport due to the G-7 summit.

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