March 23, 2009 / 12:22 AM / 10 years ago

FedEx plane crashes on landing in Tokyo, two dead

TOKYO (Reuters) - A FedEx Corp cargo plane caught in a gust of wind crashed and burst into flames as it landed at Japan’s Narita airport on Monday, killing the two crew and closing the main runway at the busy gateway to Tokyo.

Police officers inspect the site of a cargo plane crash at Narita international airport March 23, 2009. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Airlines canceled more than 30 flights and diverted some to other airports as the longest of two runways was closed.

“We have information that strong winds caused the plane to divert from the runway,” a Narita Airport spokeswoman said.

The FedEx plane landed hard, tipped onto its left wing and burst into flames, video of the crash on public broadcaster NHK showed.

A bright orange fireball and black billowing smoke engulfed the plane as it flipped and skidded off the runway. Firefighters sprayed foam onto the broken remains of the plane with its wheels in the air.

The MD-11 plane had been on a cargo flight from Guangzhou, China, FedEx said in a statement.

The plane’s two American crew had died, a transport ministry official told reporters, in what was the first fatal crash at Narita airport since it opened in 1978.

It was unclear how long the main runway would be closed at Narita, the main international airport for the Japanese capital.

Japan Airlines Corp, Japan’s main international airline, said 27 flights had been canceled, affecting nearly 6,700 people, and some arriving flights had been diverted to Tokyo’s Haneda airport and Sapporo airport in northern Japan.

All Nippon Airways said in a statement that the airline had canceled 9 flights so far, including international flights to New York, Washington and London.

Japan’s meteorological agency had issued an advisory of gales for the area around the airport and a local observatory said it had notified airlines of possible wind shear — a condition in which wind speed and direction suddenly change.

The MD-11 was a freighter made by McDonnell Douglas, part of Boeing Co.

Additional reporting by Linda Sieg and Yoko Nishikawa; Editing by Rodney Joyce

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