Riot police stormed a jumbo jet at dawn today, rescuing 364 people and seizing a hijacker who reportedly demanded freedom for a jailed cult leader and threatened to blow up the plane with everyone aboard.
Despite his threats, police said no explosives were found and the man apparently was acting alone.
It was a welcome success for Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama’s battered government, which has been criticized for its handling of the Kobe earthquake and a nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway.
The hijacker was hustled from the plane by police dressed as airline employees. His arms were bloodied and his head was swathed in a towel.
All the passengers were safe, but one woman had a light stab wound and one police officer was kicked during the raid. Five people were taken to the hospital, according to Japanese TV.
The raid capped a nearly 16-hour ordeal that began when the All Nippon Airways flight was hijacked just before noon Wednesday on a flight from Tokyo to the northern city of Hakodate by a man brandishing an ice pick-like weapon that turned out to be a sharpened screwdriver.
NHK public television and Kyodo News Service identified the hijacker as a 53-year-old bank employee. Kyodo said he claimed to be named Fumio Kujimi. Police would not confirm the reports. The hijacker registered for the flight under a different name.
Immediately after the raid, ambulances with flashing lights converged on the plane. Passengers, looking drawn and tired, filed down steps and onto waiting buses.
Some police were wearing chemical-protection gear, while others carried riot shields. One contingent, in plainclothes, advanced quietly and opened a gate behind the plane just before the larger force moved in.
Anxious relatives had kept a vigil at the airport in this seaside town, 425 miles north of Tokyo, as the blueand-white Boeing 747 sat on the runway.
Japanese across the nation were glued to their television sets to watch the drama unfold. Television stations went to nonstop live coverage.
Captives making fugitive calls on mobile phones told of blindfolded passengers’ growing hunger, thirst and fear as the hours passed.
Airport officials said conditions on the plane worsened by the hour. With The airline said its crew relayed word by a closed radio channel that the hijacker was an apparent member of the cult accused in the Tokyo subway attack, and that he demanded the release of jailed guru Shoko Asahara, charged with murder in the subway attack.
In messages relayed via the pilot, the hijacker warned officials against storming the plane, and demanded binoculars to monitor their movements.