Anton Deibe, 17, a high school student from Stockholm, was on a trip 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 the passengers and crew on Anton’s plane made it off alive.
Because the seating map for the plane was in Japanese, which neither Anton nor his family understand, they were not able to book seats together. Anton was sitting with his sister, Ella, 15, a few rows from the back of the plane. Ella had the window seat. Their father, Jonas Deibe, was sitting about seven rows ahead of them, and their mother, Kristin Deibe, was sitting two rows ahead of them.
They were following up a week of skiing in Niseko, Japan, with a week of sightseeing in Tokyo, which is where they were headed on Tuesday night when their plane caught fire.
“The flight was pleasant until we had almost arrived,” Anton said on Wednesday from a hotel in Tokyo. “We sat in the back on the left. Ella was looking out the window. I looked at the entertainment screen and saw that there were three minutes left until arrival. Then I leaned over to pack my jacket into my backpack.
“When I bent down, I could feel that it was extremely hot on the left side of my face. I looked to the left and saw fire and smoke outside all the windows on the left.
“Then, the plane started to shake, like there was strong turbulence. At the same time it got very hot inside and all the lights went out. It was pitch black. Not even the emergency lights shone. Only the light from the fire.”
“It feels like you can run 10 kilometers, and when I looked back and can see that we have just jumped out of a burning plane. There are firefighters and a plane is taxiing. It looks crazy,” Anton said.Credit…Deibe family
He said he thought a bird might have hit the plane, but did not know what had happened. He said he felt the wheels bounce on the runway. The plane stopped quickly, he said.
“Everyone started yelling in Japanese. I didn’t understand anything,” he said. Still, “there was a lot less commotion than I would have thought. The passengers were calm. Everyone was worried and scared, of course.”
Anton said he learned later that it was right about where he was sitting that the collision with the other plane occurred, by the engine behind the wing.
“I had no idea that we had crashed with another plane,” Anton said.
He said the passengers could see smoke outside, “but then this smoke started to creep into the cabin. It smelled burned and like chemicals.”
He said that he used his hoodie to protect his nose and mouth.
“It felt like needles in your throat,” he said.
By this point, Jonas Deibe had moved back to an empty seat by his children. The flight attendants walked through the cabin with flashlights, Anton said.
“It became more and more difficult to breathe,” Anton said. “It was awful. We didn’t know what was going to happen. We just hoped that someone would open the emergency doors so we could jump out.”
Minutes later, the emergency exit doors were opened, Anton said.
“They were screaming in Japanese. We were all bent over. I think people crawled. I think that’s what we were supposed to do. People crawled behind me. In front of me, I couldn’t see anything. Everything went so damn fast. Dad crouched in front of me. I did the same. My sister was right behind me.” Their mother followed behind.
Exiting the plane via the emergency slide was its own challenge.
“It was a long drop,” said Anton, who had hand surgery before the trip and is wearing a cast on his right hand.
Once on the ground, the family ran from the plane as fast as they could and made it to a field of tall grass.
“We just kept running. We heard the engine still running and spitting fire, big flames of fire, around the plane. We just wanted to get as far away as possible.”
Anton escaped with only the outfit he was wearing. But the family is safe and is carrying on with their Japan trip.
“It was an awful experience,” Anton said. “It felt unrealistic, like being in a movie.”