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Passengers escape burning jet in Japan

- The Washington Times - Monday, August 20, 2007

NAHA, Japan (AP) — Passengers used emergency slides to evacuate a China Airlines jet just minutes before the plane burst into a fireball today on the tarmac. All 165 people aboard escaped unhurt, including the pilot, who jumped from the cockpit at the last second.

Transport Ministry official Akihiko Tamura told reporters that airport traffic controllers had received no report from the pilot indicating anything was wrong with the Boeing 737-800.

"The fire started when the left engine exploded a minute after the aircraft entered the parking spot," Mr. Tamura said.

The plane burst into flames seconds after the last crew member escaped from a rear door and the pilot jumped from the cockpit window, according to footage from national broadcaster NHK.

The aircraft skidded on the tarmac on its way from the runway to the gate after landing, starting a fire that prompted the emergency evacuation, according to China Airlines spokesman Sun Hung-wen.

"After the plane landed, there were flames, and I heard explosions a few times, then saw black smoke," Hideaki Oyadomari, an airport worker, told NHK. "We felt the hot air coming our way."

Japan's National Police Agency said terrorism was not suspected. Initial reports from ground personnel showed that a fuel leak from the right engine could have led to a series of explosions, according to another Transport Ministry official, Fumio Yasukawa.