Flight Plan

A time when hijackings were dime-a-dozen in the US

| Updated on June 27, 2021

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Unthinkable in today’s hyper-security post-9/11 environment, forced diversions were commonplace in the ’60s

When one refers to hijackings, the 9/11 tragedy comes to mind immediately. But during the Sixties and the early Seventies, hijackers were relatively laidback, used a kitchen knife to force a plane to cross over to a country that they believed was a utopia.

Between 1961 and 1969, hijackings were so common in the US that “take me to Cuba” became some sort of a joke. It looked like quite a few wanted to move to Cuba’s capital, Havana, believing that it offered a picture-perfect life.

The trend was kicked off by Antulio Ramirez Ortiz, an electrician in Miami. Reports say he boarded a Key West-bound flight, held a knife to the pilot’s throat and announced that he had been hired to assassinate Fidel Castro and wanted to go to Havana to warn him. Another hijacker who diverted a plane to Rome ended up bagging a role in a Spaghetti Western.

The first recorded hijack, according to reports, took place on February 21, 1931, and even this has a Cuban connection. Byron Richards, a pilot, was approached by armed revolutionaries to take them to Lima in Peru. They promised to free him at their destination. About 30 years later, Richards found himself in a similar situation. A father and son on board a Continental Airlines flight in Texas tried to force him at gunpoint to fly to Cuba, hoping for a cash reward from Castro.

In the US, 159 hijackings were recorded during the 1960s, and sometimes multiple hijackings on the same day. Since the early Thirties, there have been as many as 1,066 recorded hijackings.

Incidents of hijackings since 9/11 have reduced because of the multiple-layer security at airports. Surprisingly, there was a time when airports routinely turned down suggestions of physically screening passengers because of the cost. A hijacking only cost an airline about $30,000 whereas the screening machines and other equipment cost millions of dollars.

Today, the threat is from a completely different source. Airports and airlines are spending millions of dollars fighting the virus and succeeding to some extent.

Source: Vox; Air & Space

Published on June 27, 2021

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