More than 30 flights were cancelled and diverted as the longer 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, Japan's main international airline, said 27 flights had been cancelled, 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 cancelled 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.