Published: July 27, 1986

A principal actor in the violent past of the Black Panthers – sought for 14 years in connection with the hijacking of an airliner – arrived under guard from Paris at Kennedy International Airport yesterday.

Federal authorities had waited 14 years for the extradition of Willie Roger Holder to stand trial in the hijacking of a Western Airlines jet out of Los Angeles to Algiers in 1972.

When Mr. Holder, 38 years old, at last flew in shortly after noon aboard an Air France flight, he was escorted by French security officers who turned him over to agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The F.B.I. said last night that he was being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center pending arraignment in Federal court in Brooklyn on Monday. $500,000 Ransom Paid Mr. Holder and a companion, Catherine Marie Kerkow, were accused of seizing Western Airlines Flight 701 on June 2, 1972, to force authorities to free Angela Davis, a prominent black militant then on trial for murder, kidnapping and conspiracy in San Jose, Calif. Threatening the crew and passengers with what the F.B.I. called a ”bomb in an attache case,” they also demanded $500,000.

Flight 701, with 98 passengers and a crew of seven, was enroute to Seattle, where the ransom was paid and all passengers were set free. The plane then flew to New York, Boston and on to Algeria.

The 20-hour odyssey ended in Mr. Holder and Miss Kerkow being taken into custody by the Algerians, who also returned most of the ransom money Western Airlines had put up. But a request for their extradition fell on deaf ears as the Government in Algiers allowed them to stay.

Within days of the event, Federal authorities obtained indictments against Mr. Holder and Miss Kerkow on air-piracy and kidnapping charges from a Federal grand jury in Brooklyn. Davis Was Acquitted

The hijacking failed to free Miss Davis, who was being tried in connection with the slaying of a judge inside a San Rafael, Calif., courthouse during a shootout. Ironically, she was freed, just days after the hijacking when the jury acquitted her of all charges. She remained active as a black militant, ran for national office as a Communist, and took a job teaching women’s and ethnic studies at San Francisco State University.

In September 1972, the small band of Black Panthers exiled in Algeria proclaimed Mr. Holder their leader. After that, his whereabouts became clouded and the F.B.I. yesterday declined to say more than that he had traveled in France, where he ran afoul of the law.

Mr. Holder and Miss Kerkow were arrested in France in 1975. He was tried in Paris in 1980 on air-piracy charges, the first person ever to face a French court for having hijacked an airliner abroad. Found guilty, he was let go with a suspended five-year prison sentence.

By then, Miss Kerkow had disappeared from France.

Mr. Holder’s arrest by the F.B.I. was announced by John L. Hogan, assistant director in charge of the New York office. He said Miss Kerkow was a Federal fugitive, her whereabouts unknown.


Meet Angela Davis

In 1969,  Davis made headlines when she was dismissed from UCLA by Governor Ronald Reagan and the Board of Regents because of her Communist Party membership. She made the FBI's Ten-Most-Wanted list the following year after guns registered in her name were used in a courthouse takeover which left four dead.  She eventually  was acquitted of all charges. Interview conducted Spring 1997.

INTERVIEWER: Your mentor, Herbert Marcuse once back in ’58, as I recall, said that one of the things that would happen as blacks made gains in the civil rights movement was that there would be the creation of a black bourgeoisie and that’s certainly been one of the things that’s happened as we look back from the vantage point of 1997. How do you see the role of the black bourgeoisie in the continuing struggle?

DAVIS: Actually we’ve had a black bourgeoisie or the makings of a black bourgeoisie for many more decades…. if we look at one of our great leaders, W.E.B. Du Bois, he was associated with a very minuscule black bourgeoisie in the 19th century so this is not something that is substantively new although the numbers of black people who now count themselves among the black bourgeoisie certainly does make an enormous difference.

In a sense the quest for the emancipation of black people in the US has always been a quest for economic liberation which means to a certain extent that the rise of black middle class would be inevitable. What I think is different today is the lack of political connection between the black middle class and the increasing numbers of black people who are more impoverished than ever before.

INTERVIEWER: Isn’t that inevitable though? Hasn’t every immigrant group, as it becomes part of the American mainstream, left behind its roots in a certain way?

DAVIS: That’s true but I think the contemporary problem that we are facing increasing numbers of black people and other people of color being thrown into a status that involves work in alternative economies and increasing numbers of people who are incarcerated. This is new. This is not the typical path toward freedom that immigrants have traditionally discovered in the US.

And I guess what I would say is that we can’t think narrowly about movements for black liberation and we can’t necessarily see this class division as simply a product or a certain strategy that black movements have developed for liberation. But rather we have to look at the structural changes that have also accompanied the gains of the civil rights movement. We have to look at for example the increasing globalization of capital, the whole system of transitional capitalism now which has had an impact on black populations — that has for example eradicated large numbers of jobs that black people traditionally have been able to count upon and created communities where the tax base is lost now as a result of corporations moving to the third world in order to discover cheap labor. I would suggest is that in the latter 1990s it is extremely important to look at the predicament of black people within the context of the globalization of capital.

INTERVIEWER: One of the things that struck me as I’ve gone back and revisited this history –is that Martin Luther King starts this movement for economic justice just before he’s assassinated. The Black Panther party is just getting off the ground here in California and in a way there seems like there was a march towards merging these issues of class and race in the late 60s that somehow got derailed.

DAVIS: Yes, I think it’s really important to acknowledge that Dr. King, precisely at the moment of his assassination, was re-conceptualizing the civil rights movement and moving toward a sort of coalitional relationship with the trade union movement. It’s I think quite significant that he was in Memphis to participate in a demonstration by sanitation workers who had gone out on strike. Now, if we look at the way in which the labor movement itself has evolved over the last couple of decades, we see increasing numbers of black people who are in the leadership of the labor movement and this is true today.

INTERVIEWER: We also see an increasingly weaker labor movement.

DAVIS: Well, we see an increasingly weaker labor movement as a result of the overall assault on the labor movement and as a result of the globalization of capital. So yeah, you’re absolutely right, but I’m thinking about some developments say in the 80s when the anti-apartheid movement began to claim more support and strength within the US. Black trade unionists played a really important role in developing this US anti-apartheid movement. For example, right here in the Bay Area one of the first major activist moments was the refusal on the part of the longshoremen’s union to unload ships that were coming in from South Africa and the ILWU then took the leadership here in the Bay Area, particularly as a result of the black caucus within the ILWU, they took the leadership in creating an anti-apartheid movement that spread to all of the campuses, UC Berkeley, Stanford.

INTERVIEWER: At least from my vantage point, back then it seemed we were attacking structures and institutions and after a certain point it began to feel like it wasn’t possible. Our leaders were assassinated, one of the things I was reading today was — 28 Panthers were killed by the police but 300 Black Panthers were killed by other Panthers just within — internecine warfare. It just began to seem like we were in an impossible task given what we were facing. How do we reawaken that sense that one person can really make that difference again now? And kids these days are kind of going back to Tupac and Snoop Doggy Dogg as examples of people that stand for something.

DAVIS: It’s true that it’s within the realm of cultural politics that young people tend to work through political issues, which I think is good, although it’s not going to solve the problems. I guess I would say first of all that we tend to go back to the 60s and we tend to see these struggles and these goals in a relatively static way. The fact is important gains were made and those gains are still visible today. For example, the number of African-American studies programs that are on college campuses today. Those institutional changes are inconceivable outside of that development within — related to the Black Panther party and other organizations. Young people began to take those struggles onto the campuses

INTERVIEWER: The last line in the essay Skip Gates has in The Future of the Race is– “only sometimes do I feel guilty that I was one of the lucky ones. Only sometimes do I ask myself why.” I wonder whether you ever feel guilty for having been one of those who have survived?

DAVIS: Well, I think about it. But I don’t know whether I feel guilty. I think that has to do with my awareness that in a sense we all have a certain measure of responsibility to those who have made it possible for us to take advantage of the opportunities. The door is opened only so far. If some of us can squeeze through the crack of that door, then we owe it to those who have made those demands that the door be opened to use the knowledge or the skills that we acquire not only for ourselves but in the service of the community as well. This is something that I guess I decided a long time ago.

INTERVIEWER: But still there were those who were arrested around the same time you are were still in prison? You got out — you got off in some ways because you had become such a cause celebre that there were others who didn’t have.

DAVIS: I mean that’s true but I am actually addressing your question about guilt, and I’m trying to suggest that maybe there are other ways to deal with it than with guilt. So rather than feeling guilty is what I have done is to continue the work. As soon as I got out of jail, as soon as my trial was over, first of all, during the time I was in jail, there was an organization called the National United Committee to Free Angela Davis, and I insisted that it be called National United Committee to Free Angela Davis and All Political Prisoners.

As soon as my trial was over, we tried to use the energy that had developed around my case to create another organization, which we called the National Alliance against Racist and Political Repression. And, what? in June it will have been 25 years since my trial was over. I’m still working for the freedom of political prisoners, Mumia Abu Jamal, the Puerto Rican political prisoners, such as Dinci Pargan, for example, Leonard Pelletier. I’m involved in the work around prison rights in general. I think the importance of doing activist work is precisely because it allows you to give back and to consider yourself not as a single individual who may have achieved whatever but to be a part of an ongoing historical movement. Then I don’t think it’s necessary to feel guilty. Because I know that I’m still doing the work that is going to help more sisters and brothers to challenge the whole criminal justice system, and I’m trying to use whatever knowledge I was able to acquire to continue to do the work in our communities that will move us forward.
INTERVIEWER: One of the problems, as we came into the 70s is it seemed as though we were fighting institutions and structures that were so big that there just seemed to be nothing that one person could do about them… How do we recapture that sense of a kind of power of being bold enough to take on those structures again?

DAVIS: I don’t know whether the movement crashed as a result of the overwhelming character of the institutions we set out to change. I think repression had a lot to do with the dismantling of the movement and also the winning of certain victories had something to do with the inability of the movement to take those victories as the launching point for new goals and developing new strategies.

But I do think it’s extremely important to acknowledge the gains that were made by the civil rights movement, the black power movement. I don’t think we do that enough.. Institutional transformations happened directly as a result of the movements that people, unnamed people, organized and gave their lives to.


DAVIS: I’m thinking about the desegregation of the south, for example, and the fact that some black women decided to boycott the bus system and this was actually done and eventually those laws were transformed or changed.

INTERVIEWER: The other thing that happened of course is that the struggle isn’t so much taking place on college campuses any more, it’s taking place in corporate board rooms or within the corporate structure and those of us who are there are both — it’s a weird thing happening. On one hand we’re more reticent about taking on the racist things that we see happening within that environment, but the other thing that’s happening is we’re becoming more Afrocentric at the same time. It’s almost like, we kind of feel like if we show up wearing our kente cloth that that’s it, we’ve done our struggle. What is that about? Where does that come from?

DAVIS: I think it arises out of a tendency often to conflate cultural blackness with anti-racism. I think this is another case where there are lessons to be learned during the period of the 60s when organizations like the Black Panther Party were coming into being, there were other cultural nationalist organizations such as US Organization, such as the organization that Amiri Baraka developed and of course Amiri OK, there was the black arts movement which was extremely important, but there was also Baraka’s political organization in Newark that took a cultural nationalist position that assumed that if we were able to connect with the culture of our African ancestors that somehow or another these vast problems surrounding us, racism in education, in the school, racism in the economy, in health care, etc would disappear. They were very interesting conflicts and debates between groups like the Black Panther party and the cultural nationalist groups in the 60s.

INTERVIEWER: What were those debates? What was the nature of that debate between the Black Panther and say a group like US?

DAVIS: The debate often focused on what young black people wanting to associate themselves with a movement for liberation should do, whether they should become active in campaigns against police violence, for example, or whether they should focus their energy on wearing African clothes and changing their name and developing rituals. One of the names members of the Black Panther Party used to call those who focused on Africa and African rituals was sort of pork chop nationalists. There were some of us who argued that yes, we need to develop a cultural consciousness of our connection with Africa particularly since racist structures had relied upon the sort of cultural genocide going back to the period of slavery so that many of us were arguing that we could affirm our connection with our African ancestors in political ways as well, following for example Dr. Du Bois’ vision of pan-Africanism which was an anti-imperialist notion of pan-Africanism rather than the pan-Africanism that projected a very idealized, romantic image of Africa, a fictional notion of Africa and assumed that all we needed to do was to become African, so to speak, rather than become involved in organized anti-imperialist struggles. So I think that the debate around pan-Africanism at the beginning, in the aftermath of world war I, for example, that Dr. Du Bois participated in, took on a different character but recapitulated some of the very same kinds of concepts and issues in the 1960s.

INTERVIEWER: So what does it say to you that here we are in 1997 and the pan-Africanist/cultural nationalist agenda is the one that the commercial side, that Wall Street has fastened onto–that side seems to have been triumphant and that the anti-imperialist movement is, not in retreat, but certainly not being heard from as much.

DAVIS: It doesn’t surprise me that aspect of the black nationalist movement, the cultural side, has triumphed because that is the aspect of the movement that was most commodifiable and when we look at the commodification of blackness we’re looking at a phenomenon that’s very profitable and it’s connection with the rise of a black middle class I think is very obvious. As far as the tradition of struggle and tradition of anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist struggle I think that is one that has to be fought for and recrafted continuously. It’s not going to happen on its own, it’s not going to be taken up by the capitalist corporations and presented as something that is both profitable and something that is pleasurable to masses of people.

INTERVIEWER: In a way I find it interesting that Kwanzaa — you know Karenga’s ideas which apparently seem to have been financed by the FBI, at least in part, are the ones that now most black folks would say they would hold to and not the ideals of the Panther Party which were about survival, at least in some part an economic survival.

DAVIS: To a certain extent I think both traditions have survived. The cultural nationalist tradition has been commodified and therefore it has been worked into the whole institution of capitalism in a way that the traditions of struggling against police violence have not, but those traditions are still very much alive. As a matter of fact I think that the response to the OJ Simpson trial was based on a kind of sensibility that emerged out of the many campaigns to defend black communities against police violence. It just so happened that a figure like OJ Simpson was the one who benefited from those sensibilities, but I think it’s important to affirm the fact that sensibility continues to exist and a kind of desire for black movements continues to exist even, I think, among middle class black people.

This accounts, I think, for the success of the Million Man March because black people tend to think of themselves as a people in struggle. This has been our history within this country and there’s a kind of nostalgia for those moments where the struggle becomes dramatic and visible and powerful, although the Million Man March wasn’t such a moment, I would argue, because there were no political demands that addressed the major problems that black communities are confronting yet there were the images of struggle, there were the images of masses of people that I think affected and brought pleasure to and moved so many black people. Now perhaps we can use that. Perhaps we can rely on that as we try to build movements that will address the impoverishment of masses of black people, the prison/industrial complex. I have to maintain some hope that that’s possible. But at the same time I think it is important to acknowledge the extent to which the black middle class tends to rely on a kind of imagined struggle that gets projected into commodities like kente cloth for example on the one hand and images like the Million Man March.

INTERVIEWER: You were critical of the Million Man March before? What was the substance of your criticism?

DAVIS: We developed this criticism on a number of accounts. First of all, the failure to integrate gender into the vision of what the black community needed, the exclusion of women from the march itself although finally I think someone said it’s OK for black women to come, they don’t have to stay at home with the babies as they were urged to before. But my criticism was also based on the conservative politics of the Million Man March, the conservative politics, the tendency to rely on voluntarism, the way in which the politics of the march coexisted quite harmoniously with the politics of a Newt Gingrich, for example the focus on family values that again linked the march to some of the most conservative developments in US society today, the assault on women’s reproductive rights, etc. If this march of a million black men had raised issues such as the assault on the welfare system, the assault on women’s reproductive rights, if there had been a sense of how to address this vast issue of violence against women, rather than assuming that a patriarchal family structure in which black men would —


DAVIS: Atone but also assume their role as the patriarchs in the family, cause that’s what the atonement was all about. The black men were not really being the fathers that they needed to be, not really taking on the burden of the family in the way they needed to do it. I found that extremely problematic because I think it’s important for us to recognize that although historically black communities have been very progressive with respect to issues of race and with respect to struggles for racial equality, that does not necessarily translate into progressive positions on gender issues, progressive positions on issues of sexuality and in the latter 1990s we have to recognize the intersectionality, the interconnectedness of all of these institutions and attitudes.

INTERVIEWER: Now that the Million Man March is over, do you still feel it was not a correct thing to have done?

DAVIS: Those of us who criticized the Million Man March — were not arguing that it shouldn’t happen. We were arguing that debates around the issues taken up by the march needed to be allowed particularly within black communities. I guess what I would criticize today is the tendency to conflate that dramatic moment with a movement.

The nostalgia within black communities for this mass movement which involves vast numbers of black people coming together is something that can often lead us in unproductive directions. Because in the past the demonstrations that we think about — the 1963 march on Washington, for example, that march wasn’t this moment that was organized against the backdrop of nothing else. It was a demonstrating of the organizing that had been going on for years and years and to assume that one can call a march on Washington and have that be a movement in the 1990s is I think a tremendous mistake. I would say perhaps the importance of the Million Man March was that it stimulated a great deal of discussion. Perhaps it brought to people’s attention the fact that we need to begin to regenerate an approach towards grassroots organizing that will help us in the direction of a mass movement.

There was a tendency of the middle class men who I think participated in that march to passionately identify with the brother on the street without taking up the kinds of political issues that are required to move black people who are in poverty in a progressive direction.

INTERVIEWER: Of course the brothers on the street are identifying with the gangster rappers or at least the younger brothers on the street are, which is a whole other level of symbolic identity.

DAVIS: And not only the brothers on the street but the middle class brothers are also identifying with the gangster rappers because of the extent to which this music circulates. It becomes possible for the — not only the young middle class men, but it becomes possible for young middle class white men and young men of other racial communities to identify with the misogyny of gangster rap.

INTERVIEWER: Well, it’s not just misogyny. Now it’s kind of moved just a straight crass materialism. The latest ones are just — they just name off name brands. That’s the progression of it. How have we reached a point where in 1997 that the ethic of being black means that you don’t go to school to learn. That learning is equated with whiteness and that somehow that is bad?

DAVIS: Well, whether it’s the approach that all young black kids are encouraged to take or decide to take. Because you do have this rising middle class and you do have the young brothers and sisters who are moving toward the corporate arena and who are encouraged to do this arena from the time that they are very young. I think this is one of those moments where we also have to talk about the deterioration of the institutions.

I can’t really blame a lot of young sisters and brothers who believe that education has anything to offer them. Because as a matter of fact, it has nothing to offer them. Suppose they do get a high school diploma that is meaningful. What kind of job is awaiting them. The jobs that used to be available to working class people are not there as a result of the de-industrialization of this economy.

Therefore, often young black people are looking towards the alternative economies. They are looking towards the drug economy…. the economies that are going to — that apparently will produce some kind of material gain for them. You can’t criticize people for wanting to have a decent life or wanting to live decently. While I think that it is true that there is a great deal to be done with respect to the ideas that circulate among young people within arenas such as hip hop. At the same time, we can’t forget about the deterioration of the institutions and the structural influence on young people.

INTERVIEWER: Bring us back to globalization of capital. How do you mobilize around an issue like globalization of capital?

DAVIS: Well, you mobilize around globalization of capital in local ways. Obviously there are some organizations that go out on the street and say we want an end to the capitalist system. But obviously that is not going to happen as a result of just assuming that stance. I think in black communities today we need to encourage a lot more cross racial organizing. For example, we look at the assault on immigrants. Both legal immigrants and undocumented immigrants. Where does the black community stand with respect to that issue?

I think it is important to recognize that there is a connection between the predicament of poor black people and the predicament of immigrants who come to this country in search of a better life. The de industrialization of the US. economy based on the migration of corporations into third world areas where labor is very cheap and thus more profitable for these companies creates on the one hand conditions in those countries that encourage people to emigrate to the US. in search of a better life. On the other hand, it creates conditions here that send more black people into the alternative economies, the drug economies, women into economies in sexual services, and sends them into the prison industrial complex.

So we have to figure out how to formulate issues that are going to bring those of us together who are affected in one way or another by the globalization of capital…When we consider how much a young black person wants to, or is willing to pay for a pair of Nike’s, right? — and then think about the conditions under which tose shoes are made in Indonesia or wherever, uh, at the same time that that young sister or brother will be treated on the labor market here as indispensible and perhaps as someone to be cast away into the prison system. So there are reasons for coming together if we can figure out some specific kinds of strategies and tactics that will allow it. I think this is the real challenge for this era, which means we have to get away from a narrow conception of blackness. We can’t talk about the black community. It’s no longer a homogeneous community; it was never a homogeneous community. At one point, it did make sense to talk about the black community because we were struggling against the profound impact of racism on people’s lives in various ways. We still have to struggle against the impact of racism, but it doesn’t happen in the same way. I think it is much more complicated today than it ever was.

INTERVIEWER: Does the fact that black folks are now a heterogeneous community absolve us from the obligation to keep reaching back — everybody to reach back, each one — reach one?

DAVIS: I think we need to insist on a certain responsibility, which people have — particularly those who have made it into the ranks of the middle class because as Dr. King said many years ago in a sense they have climbed out of the masses on the shoulders of their sisters and brothers and therefore, they do have some responsibility.

But whether people would be willing to assume that responsibility or not is something that is up to them. We cannot assume that people by virtue of the fact that they are black are going to associate themselves with progressive political struggles. We need to divest ourselves the kinds of strategies that assume that black unity — black political unity is possible.

INTERVIEWER: What’s the coalition?

DAVIS: Political coalition. Politically based coalitions. I think we have to really focus on the issues much more than we may have in the past. I think we have to, as I said before, seek to create coalitional strategies that go beyond racial lines. We need to bring black communities, Chicano communities, Puerto Rican communities, Asian American communities together.

Courtesy of pbs.org

Skyjacker of the Day #10


“We’re going to bomb Oak Ridge”: The hijacking that gave us airport security.

Name: Louis Moore

Date: Nov. 10, 1972

Flight Info: Southern Airways Flight 49 from Memphis, Tenn., to Miami, with scheduled stops in Birmingham, Ala., Montgomery, Ala., and Orlando, Fla.

The Story: The airlines long viewed hijacking as a manageable risk. They believed that if they acquiesced to all of a skyjacker’s demands, a favorable outcome was guaranteed—the passengers would go unharmed, the plane would be returned intact, and any ransom would likely be recovered after an arrest was made. Based on this assumption, the airlines were convinced that it was cheaper to endure periodic skyjackings than to implement invasive security at all of America’s airports. The Southern Airways Flight 49 incident revealed the folly of this mindset.

The hijacking traced back to a dispute between 27-year-old Louis Moore and the city of Detroit. In November 1971 Moore had sued the city for police brutality. Then in October 1972 Moore and one of his friends, Henry Jackson, were arrested for sexual assault—a charge the two men alleged had been trumped up in retaliation for the lawsuit. Moore and Jackson fled the city after posting bail, joined by Moore’s half brother, Melvin Cale, a burglar who had escaped from a Tennessee halfway house. The fugitive trio made a pact to teach Detroit’s authorities an unforgettable lesson.

Armed with guns and hand grenades, which they smuggled aboard the DC-9 in a raincoat, the three men commandeered Flight 49 over central Alabama. Their demands were unprecedented: 10 parachutes, 10 bulletproof vests, and $10 million in cash, along with a White House letter certifying the money as an irrevocable “government grant.”

Flight 49 headed for Detroit, where the hijackers wanted the ransom delivered, but heavy fog forced the plane to land in Cleveland instead. The hijackers, who had consumed much of the plane’s liquor during the northbound journey, next asked to go to Toronto, where Southern Airways offered them $500,000. Moore rejected this sum and ordered the plane to fly to his hometown of Knoxville, Tenn.

“This is going to be the last chance,” he radioed Southern officials as Flight 49 soared over Lake Ontario. “If we don’t get what we want, we’re going to bomb Oak Ridge.” Moore was referring to Oak Ridge National Laboratory, 20 miles west of downtown Knoxville. The facility’s centerpiece was a nuclear reactor powered by highly enriched uranium-235, a primary component of many fission bombs.

As Flight 49 circled over Oak Ridge, Southern scraped together every last nickel it could—$2 million in all. The airline had no choice but to gamble that the hijackers would be so overwhelmed by the sheer heft of the ransom—approximately 150 pounds—that they wouldn’t bother to count it.

Flight 49 landed in Chattanooga, Tenn., to pick up the money. Just as Southern had hoped, Moore, Jackson, and Cale were too awestruck by the abundance of cash to realize they had been duped. The hijackers celebrated their new wealth by handing out wads of cash to passengers and crew members; the captain and co-pilot alone received $300,000.

But the ecstatic hijackers reneged on their promise to release the passengers in Chattanooga. They instead demanded to be flown to Havana, where Cuban authorities refused to let them disembark. The flight then went to an Air Force base near Orlando, where FBI agents severely damaged the DC-9’s landing gear with gunfire. Yet the hobbled plane still managed to take off and head back to Havana. This time, after a harrowing landing, Cuban soldiers arrested the hijackers and impounded their ransom so that it could be returned to Southern. A furious Castro promised one of pilots that the three men would spend the rest of their lives in tiny boxes. (A full map of Flight 49’s bonkers journey can be seen here.)

The Upshot: In direct response to Flight 49’s flirtation with nuclear catastrophe, the physical screening of all airline passengers began on Jan. 5, 1973. Cuba returned Moore, Jackson, and Cale to the U.S. in 1980, much to the hijackers’ relief. “The [U.S.] jails will look like a country club, a paradise,” Cale told reporters. Moore, who served another seven years in the U.S., now lives in Knoxville.

Courtesy of slate.com

Skyjacker of the Day #9


This air pirate picked the wrong plane and the wrong captain.

Name: Nguyen Thai Binh

Date: July 2, 1972

Flight Info: Pan Am Flight 841 from San Francisco to Saigon, with scheduled stops in Honolulu, Guam, and Manila.

The Story: In the summer of 1972, American airline pilots were livid over the inability of both their employers and the federal government to curtail the skyjacking epidemic. After a one-day work stoppage failed to alter public policy, many pilots felt that a more forceful statement of their frustration was in order. The hijacking of Pan Am Flight 841 provided an opportunity for one audacious Boeing 747 captain to make clear that he and his colleagues were sick of ceding control of their planes.

The hijacker, 24-year-old South Vietnamese native Nguyen Thai Binh, had graduated from the University of Washington on June 10 with a bachelor’s degree in fisheries management. He had once hoped to stay in the United States, but his visa had been revoked on June 7 due to his anti-war activism; he had been arrested for occupying the South Vietnamese consulate in New York. Seething over his expulsion as well as the carpet-bombing of North Vietnam, Binh had decided to hijack his flight home as an “act of revenge.”

Binh didn’t reveal his intentions to the Pan Am crew until they were over the South China Sea. He passed a stewardess a note: “You are going to fly me to Hanoi and this airplane will be destroyed when we get there.” When the flight’s captain, Eugene Vaughn, refused to comply, Binh wrote a second note, which he spattered with his own blood. “This indicates how serious I am about being taken to Hanoi,” it read.

Vaughn went to the main cabin to meet Binh, a meek-looking young man who stood less than 5 feet tall. Binh showed off a foil-wrapped package that he said contained a bomb. Vaughn correctly guessed that the Binh was bluffing. (The ominous package actually contained lemons.)

Vaughn knew that one of his passengers, a retired San Francisco police officer, had come on board with a .357 Magnum. He discreetly told the ex-cop to be prepared to end Binh’s life.

Under the pretext of making a refueling stop, Vaughn landed at Saigon’s Tan Son Nhut airport. Once the plane was at rest on the tarmac, Vaughn walked back to speak with the hijacker again. Binh was highly agitated, going on and on about how he would detonate his bomb unless the plane took off at once.

“I can’t understand you too well,” said Vaughn. “Let me come closer.”

Binh leaned his head forward as Vaughn knelt down. Before Binh could repeat his demand, the captain grabbed him by the throat and thrust him to the floor. “Kill this son of a bitch!” Vaughn yelled as he pinned down the struggling Binh.

The ex-cop came racing back with his weapon drawn and shot Binh five times at close range. Vaughn then heaved the hijacker’s 116-pound corpse out of the Boeing 747’s rear exit, so that all the world could see it splayed out on the tarmac. “I threw him through a door and he went about 15 feet out,” Vaughn would later recall. “I got a good football hold on him and he went just like a football.”

The Upshot: Many anti-war protestors in the U.S. openly mourned Binh, and a few of them broke into Vaughn’s home to leave a threatening note written in animal blood: “Pig Eugene Vaughn guilty of murder. To be punished later.” Yet the pilot was also widely lionized for his actions. He received a hero’s welcome at the Phoenix airport, for example, where bystanders applauded as he told the press: “A lot of time and effort has been spent on trying to prevent hijackings, but the only thing that will be effective is a mandatory death penalty, without any loopholes.”

Courtesy of slate.com

Skyjacker of the Day #8


Gregory White, the first American air pirate to kill a passenger.

Name: Gregory White

Date: June 11, 1971

Flight Info: Trans World Airlines Flight 358 from Chicago (O’Hare) to New York (JFK)

The Story: No one was surprised when the first passenger was killed by an American skyjacker. Such a tragedy was inevitable given the unhinged nature of the characters who seized planes with guns, knives, or jars of acid. But to those who knew him well, Gregory White seemed an unlikely murderer.

The 23-year-old White lived in a working-class Chicago suburb with his wife and two children, whom he supported as a railroad clerk. He had a weakness for liquor, a character flaw that had resulted in a few disorderly conduct arrests over the years. But nothing about White’s history suggested that he was capable of violence.

On the night of June 11, 1971, White showed up at O’Hare International Airport carrying only a folded umbrella. He strolled through the terminal and onto the tarmac, where he queued to board TWA Flight 358. He made it to the top of the Boeing 727’s stairs before a flight attendant asked to see his boarding pass. Rather than comply with this polite request, White pulled a pistol out of his umbrella, grabbed the flight attendant by the throat, and pressed the gun to her forehead.

“North Vietnam,” said White, his slurred speech revealing that his bravado was fueled by alcohol. “We’re going to North Vietnam.”

A man who had boarded the flight ahead of White, a 65-year-old management consultant named Howard Franks, turned around and moved back toward the stairs. Perhaps he meant to help the imperiled flight attendant, or maybe he was oblivious to the drama and just wanted to retrieve an item from his hanging coat. His true intent will never be known because White shot him twice—first in the head, then again in the back.

Screaming passengers stampeded off the plane, pushing past the hijacker and Franks’ lifeless body. When the chaos settled, White reiterated his demand: North Vietnam. And he wanted $75,000, too, as well as a fully loaded machine gun.

After Franks’ body was removed from the nearly empty plane, the flight proceeded to JFK Airport, where White was told he could transfer to a larger jet capable of travel to Southeast Asia. En route to New York, White told a flight attendant that although he regretted leaving behind his wife and children, he felt “just destined to go to North Vietnam.”

After landing at JFK, White stuck his head out the cockpit window to survey the scene. He saw something move in the darkness beneath the plane’s right wing—a man crouched low to the asphalt. White fired once at the trespasser and missed; the man, an FBI agent who was working his second hijacking in as many weeks, fired back and pegged White in the left bicep. The bleeding skyjacker meekly surrendered at once.

Two days later, as White was wheeled out of the hospital by federal marshals, a reporter shouted out, “Why were you going to Vietnam?”

“I wanted to bring arms to help the people there fight,” White yelled back. Prior to the hijacking, he had never expressed the slightest hint that he cared about the war.

The Upshot: TWA was roundly criticized for having permitted White to reach the top of the boarding stairs despite the fact that he wasn’t a ticketed passenger. But the airline rejected the notion of altering its airport security policies even the slightest bit. “How far can the airlines go?” replied a TWA spokesman when asked whether his employer planned to make any changes to its boarding procedures. “Restrict everyone from the terminal except those who have a ticket? Stop everyone from entering the airport area except those who have a ticket?” White, meanwhile, was ruled incompetent to stand trial and committed to a state mental hospital in Chester, Ill.

Courtesy of slate.com

Skyjacker of the Day #7


He had a shotgun, dynamite, a collapsible shovel, a pup tent, candy bars, and a dark-blue parachute. What could go wrong?

Name: Paul Joseph Cini

Date: Nov. 13, 1971

Flight Info: Air Canada Flight 812 from Vancouver to Toronto, with a scheduled stop in Calgary

The Story: At a congressional hearing in 1969, a Federal Aviation Administration psychologist named John Dailey testified that skyjackers were primarily motivated by a need for public recognition. “He is like the Indian scalp hunter,” said Dailey. “If the other Indians didn’t know when he scalped someone, he wouldn’t do it.” That statement may have been a gross overgeneralization, but it certainly applied to Paul Joseph Cini, a man who botched his quest for fame by tying a knot too tightly.

In September 1970, while downing shots of vodka in his Victoria, British Columbia, apartment, Cini had watched a television news segment about a failed hijacking for ransom. In the midst of the story, his alcohol-fuzzed mind somehow managed to produce a eureka moment: The best way for a hijacker to escape justice was not to fly abroad, but rather to jump from the plane.

Cini initially had no designs on attempting this himself, as he was deathly afraid of heights—during his brief stint in the Canadian army, in fact, he had been too petrified to scale a telephone pole during a training exercise. But the more he contemplated the risky caper, the more he became convinced that it represented his one shot at improving his lackluster life, which was marred by alcoholism and dim job prospects. “I wanted recognition,” he would later explain. “I wanted to stand up and say, ‘Hey, I’m Paul Cini, and I’m here and I exist and I want to be noticed.’ ”

Cini boarded Flight 812 in Calgary with a bag containing everything he thought he would need to pull off the hijacking and then survive in the wilderness after jumping from the plane: a sawed-off shotgun, dynamite, a sheepskin rope, a collapsible shovel, a pup tent, candy bars, hiking boots, and a dark-blue parachute wrapped in a paper bag. After downing several Screwdrivers, he brandished the weapons and announced that he was a member of the Irish Republican Army who would blow up the DC-8 unless he was given $1.5 million and passage to Ireland. The plane landed in Great Falls, Mont., where Cini received all the cash that Air Canada could muster on short notice—a mere $50,000. Unlike fellow hijacker Arthur Gates Barkley, who had freaked out when TWA shorted him by $99,899,250, Cini didn’t mind the lesser ransom.

The DC-8 was en route back to Calgary to refuel when Cini told the crew to open one of the emergency exits so he could jump to freedom. But try as he might, Cini couldn’t undo the twine that he had used to wrap his parachute—the knot was too tight, especially for a man whose fine motor skills were impaired by copious amounts of liquor.

The frustrated Cini asked one of the pilots to lend him a sharp instrument to cut free his parachute. When the pilot offered him the DC-8’s fire ax, Cini absentmindedly laid down his shotgun to accept it. Seeing that the hijacker was now unarmed, the pilot kicked away the shotgun and grabbed Cini by the throat. Another crew member took the ax and smashed it into Cini’s head, fracturing his skull. Paul Joseph Cini would be remembered not as the world’s first “parajacker” but as a fool.

The Upshot: The fame that Cini so desperately craved would instead go the fabled D.B. Cooper, who jumped out of a Northwest Orient Airlines jet 11 days later and was never seen again. Cini was sentenced to life in prison in April 1972, though he was paroled after serving just 10 years.

Courtesy of slate.com