Man who killed captain in ’99 hijacking faces life

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Prosecutors on Wednesday demanded life imprisonment for a man who killed the captain of an All Nippon Airways jumbo jet during a hijacking and trying to fly the fully loaded plane under Tokyo’s Rainbow Bridge in 1999, as he had practiced on his computer flight simulator.

In their closing argument before the Tokyo District Court, prosecutors said Yuji Nishizawa, 34, was not insane as his lawyers claimed and therefore able to be held liable for the crime.

Nishizawa stands accused of hijacking the ANA Boeing 747-400 soon after it left Tokyo’s Haneda airport for Sapporo on July 23, 1999, and fatally stabbing Capt. Naoyuki Nagashima, 51, simply because he wanted to fly the aircraft.

In rejecting a statement by Nishizawa’s lawyers that he was insane at the time, the prosecutors said a psychiatric examination found the defendant was in a “mixed state of aggression and depression,” but had “probably” not lost his ability to tell right from wrong.

In calling for the life term, one prosecutor said, “The defendant’s motive for hijacking the plane and killing its captain to fulfill his desire to fly the aircraft — as well as endangering the lives of passengers, crew and people on the ground — is extremely egocentric, and there are no extenuating circumstances . . . we demand life imprisonment.”

The prosecutor said proof of Nishizawa’s mental stability could be seen in the careful preparations he made before the hijacking, including checking the weather to make sure he had a clear day, retrieving check-in luggage containing a knife after arriving on an earlier flight from Osaka and, taking advantage of a security loophole allowing passengers to return to gates from the baggage-claim area, bringing the weapon in the bag aboard the Sapporo flight as carry-on luggage.

Although calling for a life sentence, the prosecutor said Nishizawa deserves to die for his deeds and lack of repentance.

He said Nishizawa upset the late captain’s family by saying during the police investigation that if he was released, he hoped “to live his life to the fullest” and planned to work as an airport security guard “to prevent more Capt. Nagashima’s from being murdered.”

The prosecutors said Nishizawa, wielding a kitchen knife, forced his way into the cockpit, ordered the copilot out and demanded he be allowed to operate the aircraft.

When the captain tried to talk him out of this, Nishizawa stabbed him and briefly took the controls before other crew members subdued him, the prosecutors said.

While Nishizawa was at the controls, it plunged to an altitude of 219 meters above ground at one point and would have crashed within a minute if it had continued the dive, they said.

The copilot and a deadheading pilot flew the jet back to Haneda airport. None of the 503 passengers or 13 other crew members was hurt, they said.

Media reports had said Nishizawa had wanted to fly the aircraft under Rainbow Bridge, inspired by a similar stunt he had tried on a flight simulator.

Nishizawa was also reported to have repeatedly warned Japan Airport Terminal Co. and the then Transport Ministry of lax security at Haneda airport in letters and phone calls. Japan Airport Terminal operates the airport.