Three killed after light plane crashes into Tokyo residential area

An aerial view of the crash site in Chofu, on the outskirts of Tokyo.
An aerial view of the crash site in Chofu, on the outskirts of Tokyo.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (AFP) - Three people were killed on Sunday when a small plane crashed into a Tokyo suburb shortly after takeoff, leaving nearby homes and cars ablaze and the charred remains of the fuselage lying in a burnt-out residence.  

The single-engine propeller aircraft with a 36-year-old pilot and four passengers on board crashed at around 11am (10am Singapore) shortly after leaving Chofu airport on the outskirts of the Japanese capital, public broadcaster NHK reported.  

NHK, quoting police, said two people on board and one woman on the ground were killed while five others were injured.  
Jiji Press news agency said the two who died aboard the plane were the pilot and a male passenger.  

“Three people – two from the airplane and one local resident – were brought to hospital in a state of cardiac and respiratory arrest,” a Tokyo Fire Department official told AFP, a term which first responders typically use in Japan before a doctor pronounces death.  

“We also carried three more people from the airplane and two other local residents to hospital, but their condition is unknown.” 

An AFP photographer at the scene saw rescuers rushing to an ambulance carrying two victims on covered stretchers with the remains of the charred fuselage of the Piper PA-46 nearby.  

At least three houses and two cars were on fire in the residential district of Chofu just some 500m from the airport.  

The crash also damaged the roofs of other houses nearby while the plane’s fuselage was left upside down in the charred remains of a home.  

“At first I thought a large truck had crashed into a neighbouring house as I heard the ground shake and then I then saw this ferocious smoke,” a female witness told AFP.  

Television footage showed firefighters battling the blaze. The plane came down near a school, a baseball stadium and a shopping arcade.  
“I thought it was flying quite low and then I heard a bang,” a local resident who witnessed the crash told NHK.  

The plane was bound for Izuoshima island in the Pacific some 100km south of central Tokyo for a one-day training flight, local media said.  

“This place is close to the airport but I’m surprised because I had never thought that an airplane would crash,” an 82-year-old woman told NHK.  

The cause of the crash was not immediately known.  

Police have launched an investigation into the accident on suspicion of professional negligence resulting in death, reports said.  

“I have lived here for a long time and get used to the noise of light planes, but it was obviously abnormal,” Kotaro Sunaga, a 32-year-old businessman, told Jiji Press.  

The airport, run by the Tokyo Metropolitan government and with an 800m runway, remains closed following the accident.  

The weather agency said it was clear and sunny with little wind near the airport, while NHK said the plane passed an annual checkup in May.