February 23, 2024

1970. Aircraft Hijacking Foiled

Calls for a Federal Commission on Aircraft Hijacking
Front page of The Arizona Republic on June 5, 1970 (source)

Bill Downs

ABC Washington

June 5, 1970

Next to treason and murder, the crime of piracy has for centuries been one of the most heinous in the catalogue of evils that one man can commit against his society. It was true in the olden days because nations depended on shipping to provide the essentials of life for their people. Even so, Spain, France, Holland, and England have used pirate ships as unofficial men-of-war—and many captured pirates ended their lives at the end of a yard-arm.

Air piracy, of course, is a twentieth century innovation. And the abortive hijacking of the TWA Jetliner yesterday demonstrates the difficulty of preventing and stopping this most dangerous crime. However the Airline Pilots Association, the aircraft industry, and the government are determined to crack down on hijackers. And Arthur Barkley, the Phoenix, Arizona cookie truck driver charged with taking over the TWA plane, is in a serious position. Aircraft piracy is a federal charge, and it carries a penalty, on conviction, ranging from twenty years in prison to the maximum sentence of death.

Like ocean-going ships of old, the commercial airliner has become the major long-distance passenger carrier for most nations of the world. The successful hijacking of a plane consists of an implied threat to the safety of every other airliner in the world. Had not airborne pirates been successful in hijacking more than fifty airliners from the US to Cuba, there probably would not have been the subsequent rash of hijackings in South America, nor attacks on Israeli and other planes in Europe and the Middle East.

All the same, there is a difference between today's serial hijacker and the men like Blackbeard and others who terrorized the Spanish Main of old.

The swashbuckling scoundrels who lived by piracy those days were mostly pirates in search for gold.

By contrast, the serial hijacker of today is lucky to get away with his life.

A federal commission is now studying ways to prevent the piracy of commercial airliners. Possibly the most effective weapon is the psychiatrist.

This is Bill Downs in Washington for the American Entertainment Network, a service of ABC News.