Japan jet safe after hijacker kills pilot

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A WOMAN on an All Nippon Airways Flight 61 yesterday became aware of a man fidgeting across the aisle and wondered why he was wearing gloves on a 91F (33C) day. Someone else noticed him get up from his seat after take-off and wondered if he had a complaint.

Then he pulled an 8-in knife on a flight attendant on the upper deck of the Boeing 747, stormed into the cockpit, briefly took control of the plane and stabbed the pilot to death in Japan's first fatal hijacking. Forty-nine minutes later the co-pilot landed the plane safely at Tokyo's Haneda airport. Its original destination had been Sapporo. The crew burst into the cockpit and wrested back control of the plane after it suddenly lost altitude. "I've never seen the ground so close before," said Yasuhiro Fukuda, a musician.

In the storm of concern following the incident, Keizo Obuchi, the Prime Minister, ordered an inquiry into lax airport security.

The drama began minutes into the flight, when a passenger, later identified as Yuji Nishizawa, 28, a depressive from Tokyo, made a flight attendant unlock the cockpit door. He forced the co-pilot out of the cockpit and ordered the pilot to take him to a US military base in western Tokyo. When pilot, Naoyuki Nagashima, refused the hijacker stabbed him in the neck and seized the controls. The co-pilot and another off-duty pilot on board by chance, overpowered the hijacker. The crew pinned him against the pilot's seat and tied him up. On landing in Tokyo the man was arrested and the 503 passengers were led to safety. However, Mr Nagashima, 51, had been stabbed in the neck and shoulder during the struggle and, despite the efforts of a doctor on board, died. A father of two and veteran of more than a decade of flying, he was the first fatality in the 20 Japanese hijackings on record.

The hijacker's motive is unknown other than that he was fond of simulated flight games and wanted to try the real thing. "I wanted to soar through the air," he reportedly told police, adding that he had wanted to fly under the scenic Rainbow Bridge along Tokyo Bay. A reporter for Fuji Television, Shoichi Okada, who was on the plane, said it lurched and a flight attendant told passengers everything would be all right.

The crew showed cartoon videos to keep children from panicking.

The question being asked last night was how the hijacker got the knife through security. Officials stepped up airport searches and said that luggage would be more carefully checked by detectors.