• Kyodo

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Shinji Ishida, the pilot of a Japan Airlines jet that was hijacked to North Korea in 1970 by nine Japanese Red Army terrorists, died Sunday of lung cancer at a hospital in Osaka Prefecture, his family said Monday. He was 83.

On March 31, 1970, the JAL jetliner, with 129 passengers and crew members onboard, was en route to Fukuoka from Tokyo when Japanese Red Army hijackers seized control of the plane and ordered Ishida to fly to Pyongyang.

After stopping in Fukuoka, where the hijackers released 23 passengers, including women and children, Ishida flew to Seoul’s Gimpo airport, apparently in an attempt to fool the hijackers into believing they had landed in Pyongyang.

After three days of negotiations in Seoul, the hijackers agreed to release the remaining passengers and crew, except for Ishida and two others, in exchange for Japan’s then parliamentary vice transport minister, Shinjiro Yamamura, who agreed to become a hostage.

The aircraft then flew to Pyongyang, where the hijackers were granted political asylum. The plane returned to Japan on April 5 with Yamamura and the remaining crew.

The biggest mystery surrounding the hijacking was who made the decision to fly the plane to Seoul.

Diplomatic documents declassified by the South Korean government in March maintained that Ishida “intentionally” landed the plane at Gimpo.

At the time of the incident, Ishida denied that assertion, saying, “I was planning to fly to Pyongyang and was totally unaware of any plan to land in South Korea.”

Ishida, a native of Akita Prefecture, said then that he was proud of his actions during the hijacking.

“I’ve resigned myself to the thought that it was my misfortune to be involved in the incident, but I’m proud of myself as a pilot for having been able to return all passengers home safely,” he said. “I have nothing to say to the hijackers.”

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