Man sets himself on fire in Japan bullet train
TOKYO // A man set himself ablaze on board a moving bullet train in Japan on Tuesday, killing himself and a woman in an unprecedented incident on a network with an enviable safety record.
Several other passengers were hurt after the man doused himself in flammable liquid and sparked a cigarette lighter at the front of the train as it hurtled through the countryside around 70 kilometres south-west of Tokyo.
Reports said a blast was heard from a toilet stall, filling the front carriage with choking white smoke, and bringing the train to an emergency stop as passengers rushed through carriages to get away.
Media reported that the driver of the train, which had more than 800 passengers on board, found the still-burning body of the man. The train’s top speed is 300kph but it was unclear how fast it was travelling at the time.
The train involved in Tuesday’s incident – a hig-speed Nozomi bullet train – was travelling from Tokyo towards Osaka when the blaze erupted near Odawara, south-west of the capital.
Footage from inside the train after the fire showed passengers blinking and coughing as they crawled along the aisle to evacuate.
Several had soot-blackened faces and looked confused.
“In the very front of the first car, he emptied and sprinkled [liquid] from a plastic container ... then he poured it on his body and set it alight,” a witness said.
Another passenger said he had spoken to the man moments before he set himself on fire.
“He told me ‘Go to the back, it’s dangerous’. I wasn’t sure what was happening. I put my stuff away and thought about walking toward the back, then he pulled out a plastic tank,” the man said.
“Inside, there was an orange liquid. I thought it was suspicious. I asked him what it was. He said, ‘Never mind, never mind. Go to the back’.”
One report suggested the man, identified as a 71-year-old, had tried to give other passengers money in low-denomination notes before setting himself ablaze.
An official at the local disaster prevention office said the man had died at the scene, while a woman, who was found at the opposite end of the carriage, was taken to hospital but later declared dead.
He said three more men were in serious condition, while three others were badly hurt.
Twenty other passengers needed treatment, many for smoke inhalation.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe set up a task force to co-ordinate government responses, and all bullet trains between Tokyo and Nagoya were suspended for several hours.
The motive behind Tuesday’s public suicide was not immediately clear. Self-immolations are relatively rare in Japan, a country where the culture of political protest is subdued.
* Agence France-Presse
Published: June 30, 2015 04:00 AM