Couple Hijacks 747 in Harrowing Three-Nation Hop
TOKYO (AP) _ A Chinese couple hijacked a China Air jumbo jet carrying 223 people today, and the plane was forced to touch down in Japan with only 40 minutes of fuel left after South Korea refused to let it land, officials said.
The aircraft landed in the western city of Fukuoka almost four hours after taking off from Beijing and the passengers were freed unharmed, Japanese officials said. The couple, armed with only a knife and accompanied by a child, were seized by police and were being questioned.
The Boeing 747 was flying from Beijing and was bound for the United States when it was taken on its harrowing journey.
The Japan Broadcasting Corp. identified the man as the 35-year-old manager of a Beijing cotton factory in China’s Hebei province, who said he was fleeing China with his wife and 10-year-old child.
The network said the man wanted to flee because of the June crackdown by the army on the pro-democracy movement, in which the man said he participated.
He was seriously injured when he was apparently pushed from the plane after it landed, the network said, and the woman he identified as his wife was overpowered by crew members.
Flight 981 was traveling from Beijing to New York with stops scheduled in Shanghai and San Francisco. It was commandeered by a knife-wielding man before landing in Shanghai, an unidentified Japanese Transport Ministry official said on television.
The aircraft headed into South Korean airspace over the southernmost island of Cheju. It sought permission to land in Seoul but was refused, according to a South Korean Defense Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
South Korea and Communist China have no diplomatic relations, and there are no commercial flights between the nations.
Japan Broadcasting reported that the hijackers had initially sought to land in Taiwan, seat of the Nationalist Chinese government, but were denied permission there as well. Officials at Taipei Aerial Control Center said they did not receive any such request for landing in Taiwan.
When the jet moved into South Korea airspace, South Korean and Japanese jet fighters intercepted the plane, according to officials from the two countries.
The South Korean jets blocked the Chinese airliner’s path and forced it to leave Korean airspace, according to military officials in Seoul, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Later, the South Korean Defense Ministry issued a statement saying, ″The central air control office notified that it could not permit it to land unless safety of the aircraft and its passengers were in danger.
″After the notification, the airplane diverted and flew toward Fukuoka,″ the statement said without elaborating.
Four Japanese military jets escorted the jumbo jet to Fukuoka, Defense Agency spokesman Hironobu Mizoguchi.
The aircraft landed at Fukuoka, 560 miles southwest of Tokyo on Japan’s westernmost main island of Kyushu, at 2:52 p.m. (12:52 a.m.) after the pilot said he only had 40 minutes of fuel left, the Transport Ministry official said. The male hijacker, identified by police as Zhang Zhenhai, 35, manager of a cotton factory in China’s Hebei province, threatened to blow up the plane unless the pilot flew to Taiwan, Japan Broadcasting said, but no bomb was found.
After the plane landed, a rear door opened and Zhang was shoved out and fell to the tarmac, where he was seriously injured, Japanese officials said. He was hospitalized.
A woman partner, who Zhang said was his wife, was then overpowered by crew members along with a 10-year-old boy, Japanese news reports said.
Several Chinese airliners have been hijacked in recent years, with the hijackers demanding to go to South Korea or Taiwan.
A Chinese diplomat in Tokyo asked the Japanese government to return the plane and its passengers to China as soon as possible, said Foreign Ministry China Division chief Koreshige Anami.
The diplomat also requested that Japan hand over the hijackers, Anami told reporters.
In Beijing, an official with the Civil Aviation Administration of China said the the plane would return to Beijing and that the flight would set out again for New York on Sunday.
A Japanese Foreign Ministry official said there were 223 people on the plane when it was hijacked.