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Japanese Airline Hijacker Captured

July 23, 1999

TOKYO (AP) _ A jittery man with a knife hijacked a domestic Japanese jumbo jet shortly after takeoff today and fatally stabbed the pilot in a cockpit brawl before he was overpowered and arrested.

No one else aboard the plane was injured. The All Nippon Airways flight, carrying 503 passengers and a crew of 14 from Tokyo to the northern city of Sapporo, returned to the capital about an hour after takeoff, officials said.

The hijacker, an unemployed 28-year-old named Yuji Nishizawa, was subdued by the co-pilot and three crew members and arrested on the plane after landing, said Norio Chichi, deputy police chief at Haneda Airport.

``We are outraged that such a crime has happened,″ said Transportation Minister Jiro Kawasaki. He said he had ordered tightened security checks of carry-on luggage at airports nationwide.

The pilot, Naoyuki Nagashima, 51, was pronounced dead by a doctor on board shortly after Flight 61 landed, said Transportation Ministry official Satoshi Iwamura.

Chichi said Nagashima suffered stab wounds in the neck and shoulder. The pilot bled to death, said ministry official Fumihiko Oinuma. The death was the first ever for a passenger or crew member in Japan’s 20 airplane hijackings since 1970, Oinuma said.

Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, speaking in Parliament, said he sent his condolences to the pilot’s family.

Passenger accounts depicted a flight thrown into quiet fear when the hijacker, hair askew and dirty white gloves on his hands, pulled out a knife and pressed it to the back of a female flight attendant.

``Take me to the cockpit,″ Chichi quoted the hijacker as saying.

Passengers said they hunkered down.

``I was afraid to look at his face because he might say `What are you looking at?′ and take a stab at me,″ said a 61-year-old passenger, who only identified himself by his last name, Okawa.

Okawa and one other passenger, Yasuhiro Fukuda, a 42-year-old musician, said the plane suddenly lost altitude when the hijacker _ still holding the flight attendant _ burst into the cockpit.

``I’ve never seen the ground so close before; I really thought this was it,″ Fukuda said.

It was not clear who took control of the plane after the fight. TBS television reported that the co-pilot landed the plane in Tokyo.

Little was immediately known about the hijacker. Chichi said he was very agitated during questioning and was difficult to understand. Fuji TV reported he suffered from depression.

Flight 61 reported the hijacking shortly after takeoff from Haneda airport in Tokyo, said Transportation Ministry official Hitoshi Ishiyama.

Witnesses said there were signs the hijacker was troubled before he pulled out the knife. Passenger Yoshiko Kawase, 60, said she noticed the man while he was still in his seat because he appeared nervous and was wearing dirty white cotton gloves.

The man got up from his seat and put a kitchen knife to the back of a female flight attendant, she said. He then led the flight attendant up the stairs leading to the cockpit of the Boeing 747. Kawase heard a man ``shouting in a threatening voice″ inside the cockpit but said she was unable to understand what he was saying.

The passengers, who were later taken to a nearby hotel, said flight attendants and others on board were quiet and calm throughout the ordeal, despite the clear sound of fighting coming from the cockpit.

``I was shocked when I learned that the pilot was killed,″ said Miharu Hondo, a housewife traveling for a holiday. ``When we saw a doctor coming into the plane, I thought maybe someone was hurt during the hijacking. But I didn’t imagine that anyone had died.″

Shortly after the hijacking was reported, the plane was temporarily headed to Yokota Base, a U.S. military base near Tokyo, the national broadcaster NHK reported. It was unclear if that meant the hijacker had temporary control of the plane.

The last hijacking in Japan was on Jan. 20, 1997, when a man armed with a kitchen knife commandeered a flight from Osaka to the southern city of Fukuoka.

He was arrested shortly after the plane landed in Fukuoka, and none of the 192 people on board that time was injured.

Update hourly