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'The plane continued to shake': JAL flight makes emergency landing after engine damage

The Boeing 777 that made an emergency landing at Naha Airport is seen with the left engine cover missing, exposing the parts inside, in the city of Naha, Okinawa, on Dec. 4, 2020. (Photo provided by passenger)

NAHA -- A Japan Airlines (JAL) flight heading from the Okinawa prefectural capital of Naha to Haneda Airport in Tokyo made an emergency landing at Naha Airport due to engine trouble on Dec. 4 following a sound one passenger described as a "boom."

    The left engine of the Boeing 777 experienced trouble at an altitude of about 5,500 meters as it was flying over the ocean some 74 kilometers north of Naha Airport at around 11:50 a.m. The plane turned back and made an emergency landing back at Naha Airport about 30 minutes later. While there were no injuries to the 11 crew or 178 passengers on the plane, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism designated it a "serious incident" that could have developed into a major accident. The ministry's Transport Safety Board will dispatch three of its investigators to look into the damage.

    According to the ministry and JAL, Japan Airlines Flight 904 took off at around 11:45 a.m., and was gaining altitude when the problem was detected. When the plane landed back at Naha Airport, the external cover of the left engine was found to have fallen off, exposing the metallic insides. The cover is suspected to have fallen off during flight, and two of the fan blades in the front part of the left engine, and the case that surrounds them, had also been damaged. The transport ministry says the incident counts as a "damage of engine" case stipulated by the Ordinance for Enforcement of the Civil Aeronautics Act. The cover and other parts remain missing.

    A Tokyo man in his 40s who was on the flight said, "Suddenly there was an explosive noise that went 'boom' and there was a big impact. The captain announced, 'Please stay calm. We will head back to Naha Airport.' It was frightening." Another passenger, a man in his 60s from the northeast Japan prefecture of Fukushima said, "I thought a bomb had fallen. My heart was in my mouth. Even after we turned back to Naha, the plane continued to shake, and I was worried whether we would be able to land safely."

    (Japanese original by Nozomu Takeuchi and Takayasu Endo, Naha Bureau; and Yusaku Yoshikawa, Kyushu News Department)

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