Japanese Man Gets Life For Hijack

March 23, 2005

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A Japanese court sentenced a man to life in prison on Wednesday for the hijacking of a domestic flight in July 1999, in which he stabbed the pilot to death and briefly took control of the jumbo jet.

It was the first hijacking in Japan which saw a fatality and prompted the government to tighten security measures in airports across Japan, which had been relatively free of hijackings.

The Tokyo District Court found Yuji Nishizawa, 34, guilty of hijacking the All Nippon Airways flight and fatally stabbing the plane's captain, Naoyuki Nagashima, 51, in the neck and the chest with a kitchen knife.

"The hijacking incident was a dangerous and vicious crime unprecedented in the history of our country and damaged public trust in the safety of flight operations," presiding Judge Hisaharu Yasui said in handing down the ruling.

Yasui said the death penalty was inevitable given the nature of the crime, but handed a life sentence as the court judged that Nishizawa had diminished responsibility for his actions.

Nishizawa was taking antidepressant drugs at the time of the crime, and the defence had asked for clemency by reason of insanity.

After killing the pilot, Nishizawa briefly piloted the plane which was carrying some 500 passengers, and descended at one point to an altitude of only 300 metres (980 ft) before being overpowered by other crew members.

Nishizawa, who was an avid fan of flight simulation video games, had said during the trial that he had wanted to fly the plane under Tokyo's Rainbow Bridge, a suspension bridge and a popular tourist spot.