Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Airplane Hijacking - past

Airplane Hijacking

Often known as skyjacking, airplane hijacking is a form of air piracy usually perpetrated against commercial aviation. It can range from acts of individuals motivated by personal reasons—such as escaping the political, social, or economic conditions of their homeland—to violent acts of political extortion committed by highly organized terrorist groups or criminal organizations. A distinction is usually drawn between hijacking, involving an unauthorized person or group of people seizing control of an aircraft, and other acts of airplane-related terrorism such as bombing. The ability of airplanes to traverse oceans and national borders, along with the public's marked increase in reliance on air travel, has led many terrorist organizations to choose airplane hijacking as a means for publicity or extortion. This has confronted governments with a truly global security problem as authorities struggle to keep pace with the ingenuity and brazenness of terrorist groups.
By the turn of the twenty-first century, over one thousand hijackings of commercial airplanes had been reported worldwide. The first reported act of airplane hijacking was committed on 21 February 1931 in Peru. The first reported hijacking of a U.S. airplane occurred on 1 May 1961, when a hijacker forced a domestic flight to detour to Cuba. Hijackings were relatively rare, however, until the period between 1967 and 1972, when they reached epidemic proportions, peaking in an eleven-day period in early September 1970, when six hijackings were reported worldwide among the eighty for the year. Although hijacking during this period was chiefly identified first with Cuba and then the Middle East, U.S. domestic aviation was not immune. One notable incident occurred on 24 November 1971, when a mysterious figure known as "D. B. Cooper" parachuted out of a plane after having extorted $200,000 from the airline. Despite a massive manhunt he was never found, although would-be emulators proved decidedly less successful. In response to the rash of hijackings, new security measures were implemented by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the airlines, and various government law enforcement agencies. These included searches of passengers and their luggage prior to boarding and a "sky marshals" program involving armed law enforcement officers aboard some flights. In 1973 metal detection and X-ray devices became mandatory at all airports. Although the new security measures led to longer check-in times and some passenger inconvenience, they also led to a dramatic reduction in the number of U.S. hijackings. By the 1990s, however, death tolls worldwide were rising. The hijacking of a domestic Chinese flight on 2 October 1990 resulted in 132 deaths. On 23 November 1996, a hijacked Ethiopian flight resulted in 123 deaths. But by far the worst case of airplane hijacking occurred on 11 September 2001. It was the first hijacking in the United States in a decade and the first one with fatalities since 1987. In a coordinated attack, four U.S. domestic flights were hijacked and, without warning or demands, two planes were deliberately crashed into the two World Trade Center towers in New York City and another into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. The fourth plane crashed in rural Pennsylvania. The 266 passengers and crew in the planes died instantly, nearly 200 people at the Pentagon were killed, and some 3,000 people in the World Trade Center towers perished when the buildings collapsed.

Airplane Hijacking - past

1931 February 21st. - Peru: a Pan American Airways Fokker F7 mail aircraft was commandeered by Peruvian rebels for the purpose of dropping leaflets; no casualties.

1968 July 23rd. - from Rome, Italy to Algiers, Algeria: an El Al Boeing 707, flight 426 from Rome, Italy to Tel Aviv, Israel with 48 people aboard (38 passengers, 10 crew) was commandeered to Algiers by three members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The Israeli nationals (22) were held by Algerian authorities, but released within the next five weeks; no casualties.

1969 August 18th. - from Cairo, Egypt to El Wagah, Saudi Arabia: an United Arab Airlines Antonov-24 with 30 people on a domestic flight from Cairo to Luxor in Egypt was commandeered to Saudi Arabia. The two hijackers were arrested and returned to Egypt.

1969 August 29th. from the Adriatic Sea to Damascus, Syria: a TWA Boeing 707, flight 840 from Rome, Italy to Athens, Greece with 113 people aboard was hijacked by members of the PFLP; after landing and subsequent evacuation the cockpit of the plane was destroyed with explosives; most people were released immediately, six Israeli nationals were released months later in exchange for prisoners held in Israel.

1971 January 23rd.
South Korea, Korean Air Lines Fokker F-27, hijacked and ordered to fly to North Korea. South Korean military aircraft forced the turboprop to crash-land before the border, assailant then killed himself with a hand grenade, 2 people died, 58 survived

1976 May 23rd. Philippines, Mindanao, Zamboanga Airport, Philippine Airline BAC 1-11, hijacker hold aircraft on the ground hostage, after initial successful negotiation the situation escalated in gunfire and hand-grenade explosions, 13 people died

1977 December 4th. Malaysia, Joho Bahrain, Malaysian Airline System Boeing 737, mid-air explosion due to a hijacking attempt, all 100 people died

1986 September 6th. Pakistan, Karachi Airport: Pan American World Airways Boeing 747, 375 people aboard held hostage, 21 people died due to gunfire and grenade explosions

1986 December 25th. Saudi Arabia, Arab Airport, Iraqi Airlines Boeing 737, shooting between hijackers and security personnel ended in an unsuccessful emergency landing attempt, 71 people died, 36 survived

1990 October 2nd. China, Baiyun Airport: Xiamen Airlines Boeing 737, during emergency landing a hijacker struggled with the pilot and the aircraft went out-of-control, struck a China Southwest Airlines Boeing 707 and slammed into a China Southern Airlines Boeing 757, 132 people died, 141 survived (20 in the 737, 71 in the 757)

1993 August 28th. Siberia, Tajikistan, Khorog: Tajikistan Airlines Yak-40 crashed, hijacker forced the pilots to take off the overloaded airplane, but it didn't go airborne, overran the airport runway and fell down in a river bank; no post crash fire, 82 people died (49 survived?)

1994 December 24th. from Algiers, Algeria to Marseille, France: an Air France Airbus A300, flight 8969 bound for Paris was seized by four Islamic terrorists during take-off preparations; 3 passengers were killed before the plane departed from Houari Boumedienne Airport; in Marseille a special operations team of the French military stormed the aircraft and destroyed all 4 hijackers; 25 people were injured (13 passengers, 3 crew, 9 officers).

1996 March Germany, Munich Airport: a hijacker armed with a bomb and handgun seized a Turkish Cypriot airliner taking off from northern Cyprus for Istanbul, Turkey. He surrendered to German authorities at Munich airport, freeing more than 100 hostages.

1997 June Germany, Cologne Airport: two men hijacked an Air Malta airliner en route for Istanbul, with 90 people on board. The men gave themselves up three hours after the plane landed in Cologne, Germany. No explosives were found on the aircraft.

1998 February Turkey, Adana Airport: a Turkish Airlines plane was hijacked shortly after takeoff from the southern city of Adana in February 1998. The hijacker, claiming to be carrying a bomb inside a teddy bear, said he was on a mission from God. Security forces disguised as caterers boarded the plane and captured the hijacker. Forty-one passengers and five crew members were still on board when he was captured. The bomb turned out to be a dummy.

1998 October Turkey, Ankara Airport: a Turkish airliner taking off from Adana was hijacked and demanded to be flown to Switzerland. The plane landed in Ankara after the crew convinced the hijacker they would need to refuel. There, an elite Turkish anti-terrorist team stormed the plane and killed him. No passengers or crew members were injured.

1999 October Germany, Hamburg Airport: a hijacker armed with a knife seized control of an Egyptian airliner shortly after it took off from Istanbul, Turkey. He ordered the crew to take him to London but was told the plane did not have enough fuel. He surrendered to German authorities after landing in Hamburg. None of the 54 people aboard were hurt.

2001 March 15th-16th Turkey, Istanbul Airport - Saudi Arabia, Medina Airport: a Vnukovo Airlines Tupolew Tu-154 was seized by three Chechnyan hijackers shortly after it took off from Istanbul scheduled to fly to Moscow. The plane, with at least 174 people on board was flown to Medina, were about 60 passengers were released. During the hijack attempt in Istanbul 1 person was injured and taken to a hospital and the plane dropped 10,000 feet in altitude as a passenger fought with hijackers near the entrance to the cockpit. After 18 hours of unsuccessful negotiations at Medina Airport Saudi Arabian special forces stormed the plane still on the tarmac. 162 passengers and 12 crew on board were freed, but 3 people - a hijacker, a passenger and a flight attendant -- died during the combat operation.

2001: September 11 attacks, eastern USA: 19 terrorists hijacked American Airlines flights 11 and 77, and United Airlines flights 93 and 175. The four heavily-fuelled aircraft were used as missiles to attack targets of economic, military, and political significance in the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history. Two of the planes, UA175 and AA11 were crashed into New York City's twin World Trade Center towers, destroying the entire complex and killing about 3,000 people. In Washington, D.C. AA77 was crashed into the Pentagon, causing massive destruction and many deaths; an attack on the Capitol was averted when passengers intervened and UA93 crashed into a field, although all those on the aircraft perished.

This marked a landmark in hijacking: the first successful hijacking where the intention was to destroy the aircraft and passengers, and use the fueled aircraft as a missile to destroy ground targets, rather than to achieve political and publicity goals. It also marked a landmark in responses to the threat of hijacking: until then the recommended response was for the crew to obey the hijackers' demands so as to safeguard the passengers and buy time; after this the policy was more about preventing access to the cockpit and pilots, and aggressive responses. From this time air passengers worldwide were prohibited from having anything remotely like a bladed weapon in the passenger cabin: scissors, tweezers, nailfiles, etc.

2006: Turkish Airlines Flight 1476, flying from Tirana to Istanbul, was hijacked in Greek airspace. The aircraft, with 107 passengers and six crew on board, transmitted two coded hijack signals which were picked up by the Greek air force; the flight was intercepted by military aircraft and landed safely at Brindisi, Italy.

2007: an Aeroflot Airbus A320 flying from Moscow to Geneva was hijacked by a drunk man in Prague and there released crew and passengers after he was arrested by the Czech Republic.

2007: an Air West Boeing 737 was hijacked over Sudan, but landed safely at N'Djamena, Chad.

2007: an Air Mauritanie Boeing 737 flying from Nouakchott to Las Palmas with 87 passengers on board was hijacked by a man who wanted to fly to Paris, but the plane landed in an air base near Las Palmas and the hijacker, a Moroccan, was arrested.

2007: an Atlasjet MD-80 en route from Nicosia to Istanbul was hijacked by two Arab students, who said they were Al Qaeda operatives, one trained in Afghanistan, and wanted to go to Tehran, Iran. The plane landed in Antalya, the passengers escaped and the hijackers were arrested.


The first recorded aircraft hijack was on February 21, 1931, in Arequipa, Peru. Byron Rickards flying a Ford Tri-Motor was approached on the ground by armed revolutionaries. He refused to fly them anywhere and after a ten day stand-off Rickards was informed that the revolution was successful and he could go in return for giving one of their number a lift to Lima. Most hijackings have not been so farcical.

Dealing with hijackings

Before the September 11, 2001 attacks, pilots and flight attendants were trained to adopt the "Common Strategy" tactic, which was approved by the FAA. It taught crew members to comply with the hijackers demands, get the plane to land safely and then let the security forces handle the situation. Crew members advised passengers to sit quietly in order to increase their chances of survival. They were also trained not to make any 'heroic' moves that could endanger themselves or other people. The FAA realized that the longer a hijacking persisted, the more likely it will end peacefully with the hijackers reaching their goal.

September 11 presented a unique situation because it involved suicide hijackers who could fly an aircraft. The "Common Strategy" tactic was not designed to handle suicide hijackings. This resulted in the hijackers exploiting a weakness in the civil aviation security system. Since then, the "Common Strategy" policy is no longer used.

Since the September 11th attacks, the situation for passengers and hijackers has changed. As in the case of United Airlines Flight 93, where an airliner crashed into a field during a fight between passengers and hijackers, passengers now have to calculate the risks of passive cooperation, not only for themselves but for those on the ground. Future hijackers may encounter greater resistance from passengers, making a hijacking more unlikely but, if they happen, bloodier. An example of active passenger resistance occurred when passengers of American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to Miami on 2001-12-22, helped prevent Richard Reid from igniting explosives hidden in his shoes.


Cockpit doors on most commercial airlines have been strengthened, and are now bullet resistant. In the United Kingdom, United States, Australia and France, air marshals have also been added to some flights to deter and thwart hijackers. In addition, some have proposed remote control systems for aircraft whereby no one on board would have control over the plane's flight. Airport security plays a major role in preventing hijackers. Screening passengers with metal detectors and luggage with x-ray machines prevents weapons from being taken on to an aircraft. Along with the FAA, the FBI also monitors terror suspects and anyone who is a threat to civil aviation are banned from flying.

In the case of a serious risk that an aircraft will be used for flying into a target, it may have to be shot down, killing all passengers and crew, to prevent more serious consequences.

Shooting down aircraft

Several states have stated that they would shoot down hijacked commercial aircraft if it can be assumed that the hijackers intend to use the aircraft in a 9/11-style attack, despite killing innocent passengers onboard. According to reports, US fighter pilots have been training to shoot down hijacked commercial airliners should it become necessary. countries such as Poland have enacted laws or decrees that allow the shooting down of hijacked planes.

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