Old School Hijackers: From Peru to Palestine

Before 9/11, rather than flying stolen airliners into buildings, terrorists used them as political bargaining tools. Another classic from the Jack archive.
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Before 9/11, rather than flying stolen airliners into buildings, terrorists used them as political bargaining tools. Another classic from the Jack archive.

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Where It All Began: Peru, 1931

The first recorded hijacking occurred on February 21, 1931, during the Peruvian revolution. US pilot Byron Rickards flew his PanAm Ford Tri-Motor to Arequipa and, on landing, was met by soldiers. "I was greeted by an officer," Rickards later said. "He reported there was a revolution and the junta detained my plane for their use, either for transport or to drop propaganda over cities in Peru. Ten days later, the coup deemed a success, he was permitted to leave. Amazingly, Rickards was hijacked again when flying a Continental Boeing 707 in the early Sixties. The attempt was foiled by FBI men who shot out the tyres before his jet could take off for Cuba. In the Swinging Sixties, 364 planes were hijacked.

Some You Win, Part 1: Black September, 1970

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine carried out an astonishing four hijacks in September 1970. Over a number of days they directed two airliners to Dawson's Field in Jordan, an ex-RAF desert base the PFLP had renamed 'Revolution Airstrip'. When one hijacking attempt was foiled, the PFLP simply took over another flight and attempted to swap passengers for various incarcerated colleagues. This heady day, the peak of air piracy in this volatile era, became known as Skyjack Sunday. A measure of the PFLP's success is the fact that they secured the release of female hijacker Leila Khaled just weeks after her arrest. Worldwide, airport security was tightened as the public began to recognise a simple holiday flight could end in an unplanned detour to Cuba.

Leila Khaled: Black September, 1970

In 1969 and 1970, Palestinian Leila Khaled was something of a rebel legend and a very busy lady indeed. In August 1969, she seized a TWA flight, becoming a politico pin up heroine of the day after taking the plane on a seven-minute flight over her occupied homeland. In September 1970, after facial surgery and wearing a bra stuffed with hand grenades - she seized an El Al jet, but was over empowered and jailed in England. Only temporarily, however. Three days after her capture, her PFLP comrades seized yet another jet, forcing her to be released. In 1996, she gave an interview to Der Spiegel defending her actions.

Busjack: Greece, 1999

For many, it is not international politics which motivate them to acts of violent extremism, but rather their treatment at the hands of the global machine. Take the case of Arbin Soupa, 26, an Albanian living in Greece. Soupa had been arrested in 1993 in a Greek crackdown on illegal immigrants and was deeply upset by the way he had been treated by the police. Six years of stewing in his own juice later, he devised a cunning plan and took action.

Soupa boarded a bus, took out a hand grenade and, with seven hostages at his mercy, demanded to speak to the police. Unhappily for Soupa, the Greek coppers were not keen on negotiation, preferring to storm the bus and shoot the young man dead, thus successfully freeing all of the hostages. Oddly, a few days later a Greek farmer seized a busload of Albanian tourists and took them to a police station before being arrested. Nobody was harmed and the farmer said his actions were retaliation for the actions of the recently deceased Albanian busjacker. Quite what he hoped to achieve remains a mystery.

The fuel company demanded a credit card and a stewardess handed over her to pay a $6,000 bill. Five hellish days later, 39 hostages were taken off the jet and held in Beirut before being exchanged with the Israelis for 735 Lebanese prisoners.

Become A Folk Hero: DB Cooper, 1971

Real folk heroes are few and far between in these days of media hype and ersatz commitment. Hail, then, enigmatic parajacker DB Cooper. On Thanksgiving Eve 1971, DB boarded a plane in Portland, Oregon and once airborne "courteously" revealed a "device with red cylinders and wires" to a stewardess. He demanded $200,000 in $10 bills and four parachutes. The plane took off and DB bailed out, never to be seen again. The skill of the heist convinced the FBI DB was ex-military.

In April 1972, one Richard Floyd McCoy hijacked a jet from Denver to LA using the same plan, jumping out with $500,000 near his hometown of Provo, Utah. He was soon captured but escaped and was shot by FBI men. Speculation that both hijackings were by the same man have never been proved.

Touchingly, tamper-proof airliner door locks - fitted after the parajackings - are called Cooper switches. Some of the cash has turned up - $5,800 near Vancouver in 1980 - but the whereabouts of DB and the rest of the money remains a true mystery. Naturally, Hollywood had a pop at telling the tale, in the dire 1981 Robert Duvall vehicle, The Pursuit of DB Cooper.

Some You Win, Part 2: Entebbe, 1976

Undertaking something as serious as international hijacking is what Americans would call a 'life-changing decision'. With any LCD, a man has to be prepared to be wrong, he has to accept he may fail. Witness events at Entebbe, Uganda, in June 1976. Arab terrorists forced an Air France Airbus to the ground, demanding Israel release 53 convicted terrorists. A 48-hour deadline was set before hostage killings were to begin. But, in a perfectly executed rescue mission, Israeli commandos - flying from Tel Aviv and using disguised Ugandan Mercedes cars - stormed the plane, eliminated the terrorists and freed the 103 hostages. Job done. Except that two hostages were killed in the gunfire and the Israeli commander Yoni Netanyahu also died. But not a bad result, and all in 58 minutes.

Nobody Wants To Know: Athens/Beirut 1985

Naturally, the main point in hijacking a plane is to draw attention to your cause. What you don't want is to be ignored. In June 1985, Shi'ite hijackers took over TWA flight 847 in Athens and ordered it to fly to Beirut. But Beirut didn't want to know. After a firefight between Shi'ite supporters and Druse militia over control of the runway, the terrorists landed , refuelled and took off again. Captain John Testrake then yo yo'd between Algiers and Beirut, before finally being allowed to refuel after again flying to Algiers. The fuel company demanded a credit card and a stewardess handed over her to pay a $6,000 bill. Five hellish days later, 39 hostages were taken off the jet and held in Beirut before being exchanged with the Israelis for 735 Lebanese prisoners.

Pick A Big Stage: Munich, September 1972

At 4.30am on September 5, 1972, five Arab terrorists wearing tracksuits climbed the 6ft 6in perimeter fence surrounding the Olympic Village. Although they were seen by several people, no one thought anything of it, since athletes routinely hopped the fence. Using weapons they'd disguised in sports bags, the terrorists took nine Israeli athletes hostage and demanded the release of 200 Arab prisoners. After negotiations, the terrorists and their hostages were flown by helicopter to Furstenfeldbruck airfield, where an unholy cock up unfolded.

After a gun battle, the media was mistakenly informed that the hostages had been saved. An hour later, however, new fighting broke out and one of the helicopters with the Israelis inside was destroyed by a terrorist grenade. The remaining hostages in the second helicopter were then machine-gunned by one of the surviving kidnappers. Finally, a teary-eyed Jim McKay, who had reported the violent events throughout the day as part of ABC's Olympic TV coverage announced: "They're all gone."

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