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The Japanese way

The headmaster of my school would often quote: “There must be a method even in fighting fire”. I realised how profound this statement was when I saw the visuals of the evacuation of all 379 people on board a Japanese Airlines plane which collided with another small aircraft on the runway in Haneda Airport in Tokyo, Japan, just a day after New Year’s this year.

Ironically, an earthquake-relief Coast Guard aircraft, which was on a rescue mission, collided with the JAL aircraft and caught fire. Video footage showing the aircraft, virtually a towering inferno in motion, on the runway was scary. An alert flight attendant was the first to notice the smoke and flames billowing from the aircraft. It was amazing to see the alacrity of cabin attendants in making the shocked passengers stay calm even though they were seeing huge fire engulfing the aircraft through its windows.

With the presence of mind, the flight attendant, shouting over a megaphone after the public address system had failed, asked the passengers to leave their belongings and walk towards the two exits.

The innate attributes and values ingrained in the upbringing of the Japanese were on full display. There were no scenes of panic or commotion or gate crashing. They were queuing up to the exit empty-handed and headed down in order of their seat numbers. One could well imagine the state of mind and the plight of the last few passengers when the timeline separating life and death was not in minutes but in seconds or rather fractions of a second.

It was no surprise that a stoic nation, which witnessed the atomic bombings and marched ahead with equanimity, showed the rest of the world how this episode was handled with clinical precision. It appears that the whole drama unfolded in just eighteen minutes but the episode could be a case study for human behaviour required to survive a calamity.

It was hard to believe seeing the photos of the remnants of the completely charred larger aircraft that there was not a single casualty though all five persons on board the smaller aircraft perished. 

This would go down in the annals of the aviation industry as a case of brilliant teamwork and cooperation. The Japanese would very soon complete the investigation into the reasons for the mishap and would not only learn to further strengthen the safety mechanisms but would also fine-tune safety drills for such evacuations.

No doubt, the airline staff are trained in simulated conditions to manoeuvre such emergencies, but the composure and discipline of passengers show that the true test of character comes to the fore only in times of crisis. One cannot completely avoid such circumstances even with the best safety standards as one cannot anticipate and rehearse for every situation. 

We as a nation can take pride in achievements in many spheres of life but, we should emulate the Japanese in self-discipline, a bedrock to all other virtues, which will stand us in good stead. Yes, there must be a method even when it comes to fighting fire.

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