It was a struggle that ended with pilot Naoyuki Nagashima mortally stabbed, and the hijacker -- said to be addicted to computer flight simulation games -- started flying the Boeing 747 himself. At one point, as the pictures taken by passengers show, the plane was only a thousand feet off the ground.
"I was most scared when the plane shook," said one passenger. "That could have been the moment when the pilot and the hijacker fought. I thought we were doomed, like the Titanic.
After the cockpit brawl, the hijacker was overwhelmed and the plane, on a domestic flight to northern Japan, returned safely to Tokyo. According to early reports, the co-pilot had earlier been ejected from the cockpit. But one Transport Ministry official said it appeared the co-pilot had managed to take back the controls.
The death of the 51-year-old All Nippon Airways pilot, an 11-year veteran, was the first in the history of Japanese plane hijackings, CBS News' Barry Petersen reports.
Tonight the government is launching a major investigation into how the hijacker got a knife past security. And how an experienced pilot ended up in a confrontation that risked a plane with more than 500 people on board, and cost him his life.
No one is yet sure of the motives of the hijacker, an
unemployed male from Tokyo.
Media reports said that the man, reportedly treated for depression in the past, had demanded the plane divert from its destination in northern Japan to a U.S. Air Force base in Yokota, in western Tokyo. He was later said to be babbling in a high voice when questioned by police after his arrest.
Passengers told television reporters that a man wearing white gloves and a striped shirt had appeared suddenly and forced a flight attendant to open the door to the cockpit.
Â"If you don't want to die, open the cockpit,Â" the hijacker was quoted by television reports as saying.
A reporter for Japan's Fuji Television, Shoichi Okada, who was on the plane, said the aircraft had suddenly lurched and swayed dramatically.
At the time of his arrest by airport police aboard the plane, the hijacker was pinned to the back of the pilot's seat by four people including the co-pilot, the reports said.
Officials beefed up airport security and said that luggage would be more carefully checked at metal detectors.
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