Aircraft hijacking  

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— Tell me. There had been a report that the hijacker had asked for some sandwiches. Did he get those sandwiches?
— No, sir.

--Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y (1997) by Johan Grimonprez

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Aircraft hijacking (also known as skyjacking and sky controlling) is the unlawful seizure of an aircraft either by an individual or by a group. In most cases, the pilot is forced to fly according to the orders of the hijackers. However, there have been cases where the hijackers have flown the aircraft themselves. In at least one case, a plane was hijacked by the official pilot.



Record-setting hijackings

  • 1929 (unconfirmed): In the Fort Worth Star-Telegram daily newspaper (morning edition) 19 September 1970, J. Howard "Doc" DeCelles states that he was actually the victim of the first skyjacking in December 1929. He was flying a postal route for the Mexican company Transportes Aeras Transcontinentales, ferrying mail from San Luis Potosí to Toreon and then on to Guadalajara. He was approached by Gen. Saturnino Cedillo, governor of the state of San Luis Potosí and one of the last remaining lieutenants of Pancho Villa. Cedillo was accompanied by several other men. He was told through an interpreter that he had no choice in the matter; he had to fly the group to their chosen destination. He stalled long enough to convey the information to his boss, who told him to cooperate. He had no maps, but was guided by the men as he flew above Mexican mountains. He landed on a road as directed, and was held captive for several hours under armed guard. He eventually was released with a "Buenos" from Cedillo and his staff. DeCelles kept his flight log, according to the article, but he did not file a report with authorities. He went on to work for the FAA in Fort Worth after his flying career.
  • 1931: The first recorded aircraft hijack took place on February 21, 1931, in Arequipa, Peru. Byron Richards, flying a Ford Tri-Motor, was approached on the ground by armed revolutionaries. He refused to fly them anywhere and after a 10-day standoff, Richards was informed that the revolution was successful and he could go in return for flying one group member to Lima.
  • 1939: The world's first fatal hijacking occurred on 28 October 1939. Earnest P. "Larry" Pletch shot Carl Bivens, 39, a flight instructor who was offering Pletch lessons in a yellow Taylor Cub monoplane with tandem controls in the air after taking off in Brookfield, Missouri. Bivens, instructing from the front seat, was shot in the back of the head twice. "Carl was telling me I had a natural ability and I should follow that line," Pletch later confessed to prosecutors in Missouri. "I had a revolver in my pocket and without saying a word to him, I took it out of my overalls and I fired a bullet into the back of his head. He never knew what struck him." The Chicago Daily Tribune called it "One of the most spectacular crimes of the 20th century, and what is believed to be the first airplane kidnap murder on record." Because it occurred somewhere over three Missouri counties, and involved interstate transport of a stolen airplane, it raised questions in legal circles about where, by whom, and even whether he could be prosecuted. Ernest Pletch pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison without parole. However, his sentence was commuted (probably due to prison overcrowding), and he was released on 1 March 1957, after serving 17 years. He died in Eldredge, Missouri in June 2001.
  • 1968: The longest hijacking of a commercial flight, according to the BBC, was the El Al Flight 426 hijacking by Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine militants on 23 July 1968, lasting 40 days.

"Golden Age"

The so-called "Golden Age" of skyjacking in the United States ran from 1968 through 1979, and into the 1970s in parts of the world, with attacks tapering off after as new regulations made boarding aircraft with weapons extremely difficult.

September 11 attacks

On September 11, 2001, 19 al-Qaeda Islamic extremists hijacked American Airlines Flight 11, United Airlines Flight 175, American Airlines Flight 77, and United Airlines Flight 93 and crashed them into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, the southwestern side of the Pentagon, and Stonycreek Township near Shanksville, Pennsylvania (after passengers acted to stop the hijackers; its intended target was either the White House or the U.S. Capitol) in a terrorist attack. All in all, 2,996 people perished and more than 6,000 others were injured in the attacks. This casualty toll makes the hijacking the most fatal in history.

Military aircraft hijacking

A Pakistan Air Force T-33 trainer was hijacked on August 20, 1971 before the Indo-Pakistani war of 1971 in Karachi when a Bengali instructor pilot, Flight Lieutenant Matiur Rahman, knocked out the young Pilot Officer Rashid Minhas with the intention of defecting to India with the plane and national secrets. On regaining consciousness in mid-flight, Minhas struggled for flight control as well as relaying the news of his hijack to the PAF base. In the end of the ensuing struggle he succeeded to crash his aircraft into the ground near Thatta on seeing no way to prevent the hijack and the defection. He was posthumously awarded Pakistan's highest military award Nishan-e-Haider (Sign of the Lion) for his act of bravery.

Notorious hijackings

  • 1971 - A man known only by the alias D. B. Cooper is credited with inspiring both copycat crimes and winning enduring infamy by hijacking an airplane and collecting $200,000 in ransom money and a parachute before jumping. He has never been identified.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Aircraft hijacking" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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