# Aircraft hijacking

Aircraft hijacking (also known as airplane hijacking, skyjacking, plane hijacking, plane jacking, air robbery, air piracy, or aircraft piracy, with the last term used within the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States) is the unlawful seizure of an aircraft by an individual or a group. Dating from the earliest of hijackings, most cases involve the pilot being forced to fly according to the hijacker's demands. However, in rare cases, the hijackers have flown the aircraft themselves and used them in suicide attacks – most notably in the September 11 attacks – and in several cases, planes have been hijacked by the official pilot or co-pilot; e.g., Germanwings Flight 9525.

Unlike carjacking or sea piracy, an aircraft hijacking is not usually committed for robbery or theft. Individuals driven by personal gain often divert planes to destinations where they are not planning to go themselves. Some hijackers intend to use passengers or crew as hostages, either for monetary ransom or for some political or administrative concession by authorities. Various motives have driven such occurrences, such as demanding the release of certain high-profile individuals or for the right of political asylum (notably Flight ET 961), but sometimes a hijacking may have been affected by a failed private life or financial distress, as in the case of Aarno Lamminparras in the Oulu Aircraft Hijacking. Hijackings involving hostages have produced violent confrontations between hijackers and the authorities, during negotiation and settlement. In the case of Lufthansa Flight 181 and Air France Flight 139, the hijackers were not satisfied and showed no inclination to surrender, resulting in attempts by special forces to rescue passengers.

In most jurisdictions of the world, aircraft hijacking is punishable by life imprisonment or a long prison sentence. In most jurisdictions where the death penalty is a legal punishment, aircraft hijacking is a capital crime, including in China, India, Liberia and the U.S. states of Georgia and Mississippi.

## History

Airplane hijackings have occurred since the early days of flight. These can be classified in the following eras: 1929–1957, 1958–1979, 1980–2000 and 2001–present. Early incidents involved light planes, but this later involved passenger aircraft as commercial aviation became widespread.

### 1929–1957

Between 1929 and 1957, there were fewer than 20 incidents of reported hijackings worldwide; several occurred in Eastern Europe.

One of the first unconfirmed hijackings occurred in December 1929. J. Howard "Doc" DeCelles was flying a postal route for a Mexican firm, Transportes Aeras Transcontinentales, ferrying mail from San Luis Potosí to Torreon and then on to Guadalajara. A lieutenant named Saturnino Cedillo, the governor of the state of San Luis Potosí, ordered him to divert. Several other men were also involved, and through an interpreter, DeCelles had no choice but to comply. He was allegedly held captive for several hours under armed guard before being released.

Warning posters in a Central African airport, 2012

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 during a 10-day standoff. Richards was informed that the revolution was successful and he could be freed in return for flying one of the men to Lima.

The following year, in September 1932, a Sikorsky S-38 with registration P-BDAD, still bearing the titles of Nyrba do Brasil was seized in the company's hangar by three men, who took a fourth as a hostage. Despite having no flying experience, they managed to take off. However, the aircraft crashed in São João de Meriti, killing the four men. Apparently, the hijack was related to the events of the Constitutionalist Revolution in São Paulo; it is considered to be the first hijack that took place in Brazil.[citations needed]

On October 28, 1939, the first murder on a plane took place in Brookfield, Missouri, US. The victim was Carl Bivens, a flight instructor, who was teaching a man named Earnest P. "Larry" Pletch. While airborne in a Taylor Cub monoplane, Pletch shot Bivens twice in the back of the head. Pletch later told prosecutors, "Carl was telling me I had a natural ability and I should follow that line", adding, "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 stated it was one of the most spectacular crimes of the 20th century. Pletch pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison. However, he was released on March 1, 1957, after serving 17 years, and lived until June 2001.

In 1942 near Malta, two New Zealanders, a South African and an Englishman achieved the first confirmed in-air hijack when they overpowered their captors aboard an Italian seaplane that was flying them to a prisoner-of-war camp. As they approached an Allied base, they were strafed by Supermarine Spitfires unaware of the aircraft's true operators and forced to land on the water. However, all on board survived to be picked up by a British boat.

In the years following World War II, Philip Baum, an aviation security expert suggests that the development of a rebellious youth "piggybacking on to any cause which challenged the status quo or acted in support of those deemed oppressed", may have been a contributor to attacks against the aviation field. The first hijacking of a commercial flight occurred on the Cathay Pacific Miss Macao on July 16, 1948. After this incident and others in the 1950s, airlines recommended that flight crews comply with the hijackers' demands rather than risk a violent confrontation. There were also various hijacking incidents and assaults on planes in China and the Middle East.

The first hijacking of a flight for political reasons happened in Bolivia, affecting the airline Lloyd Aereo Boliviano on September 26, 1956. The DC-4 was carrying 47 prisoners who were being transported from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, to El Alto, in La Paz. A political group was waiting to take them to a concentration camp located in Carahuara de Carangas, Oruro. The 47 prisoners overpowered the crew and gained control of the aircraft while airborne and diverted the plane to Tartagal, Argentina. Prisoners took control of the aircraft and received instructions to again fly to Salta, Argentina, as the airfield in Tartagal was not big enough. Upon landing, they told the government of the injustice they were subjected to, and received political asylum.

On October 22, 1956, French forces hijacked a Moroccan airplane carrying leaders of the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) during the ongoing Algerian War. The plane, which was carrying Ahmed Ben Bella, Hocine Aït Ahmed, and Mohamed Boudiaf, was destined to leave from Palma de Mallorca for Tunis where the FLN leaders were to conference with Prime Minister Habib Bourguiba, but French forces redirected the flight to occupied Algiers, where the FLN leaders were arrested.

### 1958–1979

Between 1958 and 1967, there were approximately 40 hijackings worldwide. Beginning in 1958, hijackings from Cuba to other destinations started to occur; in 1961, hijackings from other destinations to Cuba became prevalent. The first happened on May 1, 1961, on a flight from Miami to Key West. The perpetrator, armed with a knife and gun, forced the captain to land in Cuba.

Australia was relatively untouched by the threat of hijackings until July 19, 1960. On that evening, a 22-year-old Russian man attempted to divert Trans Australia Airlines Flight 408 to Darwin or Singapore. The crew were able to subdue the man after a brief struggle.

According to the FAA, in the 1960s, there were 100 attempts of hijackings involving U.S. aircraft: 77 successful and 23 unsuccessful. Recognizing the danger early, the FAA issued a directive on July 28, 1961, which prohibits unauthorized persons from carrying concealed firearms and interfering with crew member duties. The Federal Aviation Act of 1958 was amended to impose severe penalties for those seizing control of a commercial aircraft. Airlines could also refuse to transport passengers who were likely to cause danger. That same year, the FAA and Department of Justice created the Peace Officers Program which put trained marshals on flights. A few years later, on May 7, 1964, the FAA adopted a rule requiring that cockpit doors on commercial aircraft be kept locked at all times.

Destinations desired by U.S. hijackers, 1968–72
Transport attempts
Destination Number
Cuba 90
Mexico 4
Italy 3
Bahamas 1
Egypt 1
Israel 1
North Korea 1
North Vietnam 1
South Vietnam
1
Sweden 1
Switzerland 1
United States 1
Unknown 3
Extortion attempts
Extortion 26
Total 137

In a five-year period (1968–1972) the world experienced 326 hijack attempts, or one every 5.6 days. The incidents were frequent and often just an inconvenience, which resulted in television shows creating parodies. Time magazine even ran a lighthearted comedy piece called "What to Do When the Hijacker Comes". Most incidents occurred in the United States. There were two distinct types: hijackings for transportation elsewhere and hijackings for extortion with the threat of harm.

Between 1968 and 1972, there were 90 recorded transport attempts to Cuba. In contrast, there were 26 extortion attempts (see table on the right). The longest and first transcontinental (Los Angeles, Denver, New York, Bangor, Shannon and Rome) hijacking from the US started on 31 October 1969.

The Eastern Air Lines Shuttle flight 1320 on May 17, 1970, witnessed the first fatality in the course of a U.S. highjacking.

Incidents also became problematic outside of the U.S. For instance, in 1968, El Al Flight 426 was seized by Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) militants on 23 July, an incident which lasted 40 days, making it one of the longest. This record was later beaten in 1999.

As a result of the evolving threat, President Nixon issued a directive in 1970 to promote security at airports, electronic surveillance and multilateral agreements for tackling the problem.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) issued a report on aircraft hijacking in July 1970. Beginning in 1969 until the end of June 1970, there were 118 incidents of unlawful seizure of aircraft and 14 incidents of sabotage and armed attacks against civil aviation. This involved airlines of 47 countries and more than 7,000 passengers. In this period, 96 people were killed and 57 were injured as a result of hijacking, sabotage and armed attacks.

### Air traffic control

There is no generic or set of rules for handling a hijacking situation. Air traffic controllers are expected to exercise their best judgement and expertise when dealing with the apparent consequences of an unlawful interference or hijack. Depending on the jurisdiction, the controller will inform authorities, such as the military, who will escort the hijacked plane. Controllers are expected to keep communications to a minimum and clear the runway for a possible landing.

## Legislation for downing hijacked aircraft

### Germany

In January 2005, a federal law came into force in Germany, called the Luftsicherheitsgesetz, which allows "direct action by armed force" against a hijacked aircraft to prevent a September 11–style attack. However, in February 2006 the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany struck down these provisions of the law, stating such preventive measures were unconstitutional and would essentially be state-sponsored murder, even if such an act would save many more lives on the ground. The main reason behind this decision was that the state would effectively be killing innocent hostages in order to avoid a terrorist attack. The Court also ruled that the Minister of Defense is constitutionally not entitled to act in terrorism matters, as this is the duty of the state and federal police forces. President of Germany Horst Köhler urged judicial review of the constitutionality of the Luftsicherheitsgesetz after he signed it into law in 2005.

### India

India published its new anti-hijacking policy in August 2005. The policy came into force after approval from the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). The main points of the policy are:

• Any attempt to hijack will be considered an act of aggression against the country and will prompt a response fit for an aggressor.
• Hijackers, if captured alive, will be put on trial, convicted, and sentenced to death.
• Hijackers will be engaged in negotiations only to bring the incident to an end, to comfort passengers and to prevent loss of lives.
• The hijacked plane will be shot down if it is deemed to become a missile heading for strategic targets.
• The hijacked plane will be escorted by armed fighter aircraft and will be forced to land.
• A hijacked grounded plane will not be allowed to take off under any circumstance.

### United States

Prior to the September 11 attacks, countermeasures were focused on "traditional" hijackings. As such, there were no specific rules for handling suicide hijackings, where aircraft would be used as a weapon. Moreover, military response at the time consisted of multiple uncoordinated units, each with its own set of rules of engagement with no unified command structure. Soon after the attacks, however, new rules of engagement were introduced, authorizing the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) – the Air Force command tasked with protecting U.S. airspace – to shoot down hijacked commercial airliners if necessary. In 2003, the military stated that fighter pilots exercise this scenario several times a week.

### Other countries

Poland and Russia are among other countries that have had laws or directives for shooting down hijacked planes. However, in September 2008 the Polish Constitutional Court ruled that the Polish rules were unconstitutional, and voided them.

## International law

### Tokyo Convention

The Convention on Offences and Certain Other Acts Committed on Board Aircraft, known as the Tokyo Convention, is an international treaty which entered force on December 4, 1969. As of 2015, it has been ratified by 186 parties. Article 11 of the Tokyo Convention states the following:

1. When a person on board has unlawfully committed by force or threat thereof an act of interference, seizure, or other wrongful exercise of control of an aircraft in flight or when such an act is about to be committed, Contracting States shall take all appropriate measures to restore control of the aircraft to its lawful commander or to preserve his control of the aircraft. 2. In the cases contemplated in the preceding paragraph, the Contracting State in which the aircraft lands shall permit its passengers and crew to continue their journey as soon as practicable, and shall return the aircraft and its cargo to the persons lawfully entitled to possession.

The signatories agree that if there is unlawful takeover of an aircraft, or a threat of it on their territory, then they will take all necessary measures to regain or keep control over an aircraft. The captain can also disembark a suspected person on the territory of any country, where the aircraft lands, and that country must agree to it, as stated in Articles 8 and 12 of the convention.

### Hague Convention

The Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft (known as the Hague Convention) went into effect on October 14, 1971. As of 2013, the convention has 185 signatories.

### Montreal Convention

The Montreal Convention is a multilateral treaty adopted by a diplomatic meeting of ICAO member states in 1999. It amended important provisions of the Warsaw Convention's regime concerning compensation for the victims of air disasters.

## In popular culture

• The 1997 Hollywood film Air Force One is based on the fictional hijacking of Air Force One.
• Hijacking is a central theme in the Turbulence movie trilogy.
• In Mission: Impossible 2, one of the film's antagonists hijacks a plane at the start of the movie.
• The 2006 film United 93 is based on the real events onboard United Airlines Flight 93 one of the four airlines hijacked during the September 11 attacks.
• The 2012 film The Dark Knight Rises features an opening sequence of hijacking and crashing an aircraft for the purpose of kidnapping a man and faking his death.
• The film Con Air features a U.S. Marshals aircraft being hijacked by the maximum-security prisoners on board.
• The Taking of Flight 847: The Uli Derickson Story was a made-for-TV film based on the actual hijacking of TWA Flight 847, as seen through the eyes of the chief flight attendant Uli Derickson.
• Passenger 57 depicts an airline security expert trapped on a passenger jet when terrorists seize control.
• Executive Decision depicts a Boeing 747 carrying 400 passengers being hijacked by Algerian terrorists, and U.S. marine and Army special forces use a reconnaissance aircraft to re-take the plane.
• Skyjacked is a 1972 film about a crazed Vietnam War veteran hijacking an airliner, demanding to be taken to the Soviet Union.
• The 1986 film The Delta Force depicted a Special Forces squad tasked with retaking a plane hijacked by Lebanese terrorists, loosely based on the hijacking of TWA Flight 847.
• The 2004 film The Assassination of Richard Nixon, based on a true incident, depicts a disillusioned tire salesman who attempts to hijack a plane in 1974 and crash it into the White House. His attempt failed and he was mortally wounded by an airport policeman. He killed himself before police stormed the plane.
• The 2006 film Snakes On a Plane is a fictional story about aircraft piracy through the in-flight release of venomous snakes.
• In Harold and Kumar 2, two U.S. Air Marshals subdue Harold and Kumar on board a plane after mistaking them for terrorists.
• The 2011 film Payanam is a movie entirely based on the negotiations and rescue operations done by the Indian security forces in response to a flight hijacking incident.
• In the 2013 video game Grand Theft Auto V the player is tasked with hijacking a cargo plane carrying a large shipment of weapons by crashing a crop duster into the cargo bay mid-flight and fighting to seize control of the aircraft. The cargo plane is later shot down by the US Air Force, requiring the player to bail out.
• The 2014 film Non-Stop depicts an aircraft hijacking.
• The Indian film Neerja is based on the hijacking of Pan Am Flight 73 in Karachi.
• In 2016, German television broadcast the film "Terror – Ihr Urteil" ("Terror – Your Judgement"), in which a Bundeswehr military pilot shoots down a hijacked passenger plane with 164 people on board that was heading towards a stadium filled with 70,000 people. Following the broadcast, a public vote was called for in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and 86.9% of viewers voted that the pilot was not guilty of murder.
• The 2019 film 7500 depicts the struggle of a pilot to land an aircraft and maintain control of its cockpit during a hijacking.