March 5, 2024

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“Everyone started shouting in Japanese. I didn't understand it at all.”

“Everyone started shouting in Japanese. I didn't understand it at all.”

17-year-old Anton Deby and his family were traveling to Tokyo when their plane collided with a Coast Guard plane. He tells his story. “Everyone started shouting in Japanese. I didn't understand it at all.

Christina Anderson

Anton Deby, a high school student from Stockholm, was traveling with his family to Japan to celebrate his father's 50th birthday. They were among the passengers on Japan Airlines Flight 516 when it collided with a Coast Guard plane on Tuesday. All passengers and crew members of the Anton plane escaped alive.

Because the plane's seating chart was in Japanese, Anton and his family, who did not understand the language, were unable to book seats together. Anton sat with his 15-year-old sister Ella a few rows away from the back of the plane. Ella had a window seat. Their father, Jonas Debbie, sat about seven rows in front of them and their mother, Christine Debbie, sat two rows in front of them.

After a week of skiing in Niseko, Japan, they wanted to visit Tokyo for a week, where they were headed Tuesday evening when their plane caught fire. “The ride was fun until we were almost there,” Anton recalled Wednesday from a Tokyo hotel. “We were sitting at the back on the left. Ella looked out the window. I looked at the entertainment screen and saw that there were three minutes to go. Then I bent down to put my jacket in my bag.

“When I bent down, I felt like it was getting really hot on the left side of my face. I looked to my left and saw fire and smoke outside all the windows on the left.

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Pitch dark

“Then the plane started shaking, as if there was strong turbulence. Meanwhile, it became very hot inside and all the lights went out. It was pitch black. Even the emergency lights weren't bright. “I saw nothing but the light of the fire.”

He says he thought a bird might have hit the plane, but he didn't know what happened. He felt the wheels bouncing on the tarmac. He says the plane stopped quickly. “Everyone started shouting in Japanese. I didn't understand it,” he says. However, “there was much less noise than I thought. The passengers were calm. Of course everyone was worried and afraid.”

An aerial photo shows a burning Japan Airlines Airbus A350.Image via Reuters

Anton says he later heard that the collision with the other plane occurred where he was sitting, near the engine behind the wing.

“I had no idea we collided with another plane,” Anton says. He says passengers could see smoke outside, “but then smoke started entering the cabin.” “It smelled burnt and smelled like chemicals.” He says he used a hoodie to protect his nose and mouth. “It felt like needles were in your throat,” he recalls.

emergency exit

At that moment Father Jonas had returned to an empty chair with his children. Anton says the flight attendants walked through the cabin with flashlights. “Breathing became increasingly more difficult,” Anton says. “It was terrifying. We didn't know what was going to happen. We were just hoping someone would open the emergency doors so we could jump out.”

Anton says: Minutes later, the emergency exit doors opened.

Blank ANP/EPA image

ANP/EPA photo

“They were shouting in Japanese. We were all bent over. I think people were cringing. I thought that was the intent. People crawled behind me. I couldn't see anything in front of me. Everything happened so damn fast. My dad crawled in front of me. I did the same thing. My sister was behind me. directly.” Their mother followed them.

Exiting the plane via the emergency ramp was a challenge in itself. “It was a long fall,” Anton describes. He had undergone surgery on his hand before the trip and was wearing a splint on his right hand. Once they reached the ground, the family ran as fast as they could from the plane into a field of tall grass. “We kept running. We heard the engine still running and spewing flames, while big flames surrounded the plane. We just wanted to get as far away as possible.”

Anton fled with only the clothes he was wearing. But the family is safe and continues their journey across Japan. “It was a terrible experience,” Anton concludes. “It seemed unreal, like you were in a movie.”

© The New York Times