I had this forwarded to me without a name. It's a first hand account by a Delta Airlines captain whose flight was boarding at Narita when the 8.9 earthquake struck off the coast of Japan.
We were at the gate onboard ship 7001 with passenger boarding in progress when the earthquake began. My F/O, Joe Haggerty, had taken his seat and I was standing behind the center radio console when the airplane began shaking. Initially thought it was wind gusts but ruled that out since it had been calm when we left the hotel. Jet blast from a taxiing aircraft? Nope, look, the terminal windows are flexing and the building is...moving! It's an earthquake...immediately, in a brilliant display of airmanship, Joe reached over and set the parking brake. It seemed quite possible that we could jump our wheel chocks and roll into something hard. After a minute of this, the shaking got much worse and lasted about 2 1/2 minutes total. Our passengers intuitively decided that the safest place in all of this was on the aircrart and not in the terminal or the jetway. Never seen 261 people board a 777 so quickly! Two long and impressive aftershocks followed during the next hour. Narita closed it's runways and our inbound flights began diverting. 281 from Atlanta was about 10 minutes from landing and diverted to Nagoya. Hanada and Narita were both closed. They evacuated everyone from the Narita terminals deeming the structures unsafe for occupancy. The Narita tower was evacuated, Narita Approach Control was evacuated. At about 4pm, the airport was notam'd closed "until 0600 tomorrow morning". So, Delta cancelled us and all of the other flights out of Narita.
Well.........there was only one "safe area" established at the airport (outside in a cold rain) where passengers could be taken if they deplaned. It became full. There was no chance of deplaning into the terminal. No chance of deplaning at all. No ground transportation as all busses and trains were shut down and the highways had been closed. So, Delta calls the Narita Airport Authority and suggests that since the runway had been inspected, it might be a real good idea to allow 6 Delta departures and get maybe 1,400 customers out of this mess. They agreed and after a four hour wait at the gate, we got out of there. On departure we could see four distinct, large fires in downtown Tokyo, 50 miles to the south. A refinery was on fire at the coastline to our east. We had no real idea of the size of the disaster until we had a datalink discussion with our dispatcher who filled us in. Now, watching the news at home, I am stunned at the devastation. All Delta crews and employees are safe and uninjured in Japan. I am not sure if the layover hotel has power. I'm glad I'm not in room 932 anymore with the aftershocks that they are getting.
Happy to be home and thanks for your concern.
It's weird when you're on the ground and the airplane is moving in a way you haven't commanded it. I remember the first time I couldn't taxi straight in wind, and can see why that was the captain's first impression.