The captain of an All Nippon Airways jumbo jet bound for Sapporo was stabbed to death Friday by a knife-wielding hijacker who flew the plane for a short time after the stabbing, police said.
The 28-year-old Tokyo man was arrested after the hijacked plane returned to Tokyo’s Haneda airport at 12:14 p.m. None of the 503 passengers were hurt, police said. Fourteen crew members were also aboard the plane, a Boeing 747-400.
The man, whose identity has not been revealed, later told investigators he liked to play flight simulation games and wanted to fly a real plane, police said.
The hijacker, who may have a history of psychiatric treatment, was overpowered by the copilot and two other ANA employees who were on board as passengers, according to reports.
They rushed into the cockpit when the plane began to drop after the hijacker briefly grabbed the controls. One of the off-duty ANA employees, a pilot who happened to be on board, reportedly took over and landed the plane safely.
The Transport Ministry later said that the plane at one point plunged to 300 meters above ground level. Flight records show the plane dropped about 600 meters in five minutes.
Capt. Naoyuki Nagashima, a veteran pilot and a father of two, bled to death after the hijacker stabbed him in the neck and shoulder, severing an artery. The pilot’s death, confirmed by a doctor on board the plane at around 12:30 p.m., was the first fatality of any crew member or passenger in a hijacking in Japan, officials said.
The aircraft had departed Tokyo’s Haneda Airport at 11:23 a.m.
Just minutes after ANA Flight 61 took off for Sapporo’s Shin-Chitose Airport, the hijacker reportedly pulled a 20-cm knife on a female cabin attendant and forced his way to the cockpit. There he told Kazuyuki Koga, the 34-year-old copilot, to get out, police said.
Investigators quickly began questioning the attacker over his motives and how he managed to get the weapon past metal detectors.
The jetliner was over Tokyo Bay when it lurched and swayed and was later seen circling over Izu Oshima Island and then near Yokota.
At 12:04 p.m., someone in the cockpit radioed Haneda control tower to say the pilot had been stabbed and the hijacker subdued, and asked that an ambulance be readied. A minute later, the plane reported that the aircraft would make an emergency landing at the airport.
Yoshiko Kawase, a 60-year-old passenger from Chiba Prefecture who was sitting in the fifth row near the hijacker described him wearing soiled white gloves and a striped shirt.
“He suddenly stood up and started shouting ‘Go! Go!’ at the flight attendants. Then I figured something was wrong,” she said, adding she was surprised when a flight attendant came over and whispered to her, “The aircraft’s been hijacked.”
Another passenger told Kyodo News, “When we heard the in-flight announcement telling us that the captain had seized the hijacker, there was a big applause.
“But we were later shocked to hear he had passed away.”
Some reports said the hijacker had demanded the plane fly to Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo and that he wanted to fly under Rainbow Bridge, which spans part of Tokyo Bay.
Passengers started leaving the aircraft at 12:55 p.m.
After the incident, the Transport Ministry instructed airlines to tighten security checks for both carry-on and check-in luggage at airports nationwide.
The last hijacking occurred in January 1997, when an ANA Boeing 777 bound from Osaka to Fukuoka was skyjacked by a 31-year-old man. In June 1995, an ANA plane headed for Hakodate was hijacked by a man wielding an object resembling an ice pick who threatened to release sarin nerve gas. In both incidents, the hijackers were arrested.
Nagashima joined ANA in 1970 and had logged 10,705 hours of flight time, the carrier said.
After the hijacker was arrested Friday, top government officials said the state is determined to do all it can to prevent similar incidents and told of their sorrow over Nagashima’s death. “I would like to express my regret over his death from the bottom of my heart,” Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi said in a statement. He said the incident will be thoroughly investigated and measures will be taken to prevent a recurrence.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiromu Nonaka said Nagashima “sacrificed himself to save over 500 lives on board.”
“I was deeply moved by the fact that the incident ended with the sacrifice of the precious life of the captain,” he added.
Nonaka also said the prime minister hoped to be able to find a way for the government to express it’s most sincere condolences to Nagashima’s family.
ANA President Kichisaburo Nomura visited the Prime Minister’s Official Residence to report the incident. “I have apologized to the prime minister for all the trouble,” Nomura told reporters after meeting with Obuchi.
Police are still investigating how the hijacker was able to bring a knife on board and are checking Haneda airport’s security devices. At Haneda airport, security checks are conducted for passengers at 19 gates, with and a team of six inspectors usually working each gate with a metal detector, an X-ray monitor to check luggage and a camera overlooking sites around the gates, Transport Ministry officials said.
After previous hijacking cases in 1995 and 1997, the ministry had instructed airlines to upgrade security inspections by upgrading and increasing the amount of inspection equipment, according to ministry officials.
There is a possibility that metal detectors can not detect knives made of ceramic, one of the officials said.