HAKODATE, Japan — Riot police stormed a jumbo jet at dawn today, rescuing 364 people and seizing a hijacker who had reportedly demanded freedom for a jailed cult leader and threatened to blow up the plane with everyone aboard.
Police said no explosives had been found, and the man apparently was acting alone.
The hijacker was hustled from the plane by police dressed as airline employees.
All the passengers were safe, although 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 an ordeal of almost 16 hours that began when the All Nippon Airways flight was hijacked just before noon yesterday 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.
After the raid, ambulances converged on the plane. Passengers, looking drawn and tired, filed down steps and onto waiting buses.
NHK public television and Kyodo News Service identified the suspected hijacker as a 53-year-old bank employee. Kyodo said he claimed to be named Fumio Kujimi. Police would not confirm the reports. The suspect registered for the flight under a different name.
TV footage showed police scrambling up ladders through hatches into the plane. The film was not broadcast until after the raid was completed.
“I’m relieved it’s over and that all the passengers appear to be safe,” Seiji Fukatsu, the airline president, told reporters.
Relatives had kept a vigil at the airport in this seaside town 425 miles north of Tokyo as the blue-and-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 calls on mobile phones told of hunger, thirst and fear of blindfolded passengers as the hours passed.
Airport officials said conditions on the plane worsened by the hour. With blinds drawn and doors shut, the plane was hot and humid. Since the flight was short, no food and only limited drinks were on board, and the hijacker refused to let airport workers deliver more supplies.
The passenger list included seven infants and more than 60 people over 60, officials said.
The airline said its crew relayed word by a closed radio channel that the hijacker was an apparent member of the Sublime Truth 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.
“I did it for Asahara!” the plane’s crew quoted the hijacker as saying, according to the airline’s managing director, Yuzuru Matsumoto.