A Chinese airliner that was hijacked Saturday and forced to land in southwestern Japan returned early today to Beijing with most of its passengers and the wife and child of the hijacker.
The hijacker, who identified himself as Zhang Zhenhai, 35, remained in a hospital in Fukuoka, Japan, with leg and pelvic injuries he suffered when he dropped to the ground from an open door of the Boeing 747 while it was parked on the tarmac at the Fukuoka airport on Japan’s southernmost main island of Kyushu, about 560 miles west-southwest of Tokyo.
When the plane arrived at the Beijing airport shortly before 4 a.m. today, a woman who appeared to be handcuffed was led down a stairway from the aircraft separately from the other passengers and taken away in a police car.
Japanese police said they believe that the wife and 10-year-old child of the hijacker were not involved in the crime, government sources said.
Sources in Japan said that on the return flight to Beijing, the plane carried 208 of the original 223 passengers and crew. The remaining 15 passengers stayed in Fukuoka to continue their journey to the United States from there, they said.
Air China Flight 981 was on a flight from Beijing to New York via Shanghai when it was hijacked shortly before it was to land in Shanghai. The hijacker ordered the pilot to fly to South Korea.
Zhang said he intended to hijack the plane with a bomb, but left the bomb in a Beijing restaurant, Japanese police said. Zhang instead forced his way into the cockpit and grabbed the pilot, police said, adding that they had no evidence that a weapon was used.
South Korean authorities refused to allow the plane to land, and it changed course and landed at Fukuoka nearly four hours after taking off from Beijing, a Japanese Transport Ministry official said.
Japanese police said Zhang, a cotton spinning factory foreman, was embittered after taking part in protests for democracy that ended in a bloody army crackdown last June.
“We have wanted to leave since Tian An Men Square,” police quoted Zhang as saying. News reports said Zhang participated in the student demonstrations in Beijing’s Tian An Men Square.
After the plane landed, purser Wei Li opened a rear door and told Zhang, “Look, this is Seoul,” a Fukuoka police official said. When Zhang peered out the door, Wei pushed him out and he fell to the ground, the official said.
The woman and boy, whose names were not released, were apprehended by the crew after Zhang was pushed out.
The passengers, mostly Chinese but also including 12 Americans, two British, four Thais and one unidentified non-Chinese, were searched, then transferred to a waiting room in the Fukuoka airport while the Japanese government considered how to handle the incident.