Kataoka still has other relatives in Japan -- some are doctors who had to stay behind to care for the wounded.
Rescue workers using chainsaws and picks are digging through the rubble of Japan's devastated coast, and the death toll is expected to top 10,000. Millions of the living are without power, food or water, and the most grim shortage may be the lack of coffins and body bags.
While the official victim toll is around 2,800, that figure doesn't include nearly 10,000 still unaccounted for in the town of Minami Sariku alone.
Another passenger who got off the plane in New York on Monday said he had faith Japan would recover.
"They will rebuild," said Kirk D'Amato, of Astoria, who was in Tokyo performing in a play.
Passenger Bob Mitchell, who lives in Wilton, Conn., was emotional as he recounted his experience.
The Tokyo building where he was shook "for a number of minutes," he said.
"I was just hoping it wouldn't fall," he added.
Mitchell is an executive at General Electric, which is a minority owner of NBC Universal.