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EgyptAir Hijacking Recalls 4 Past Skyjackers Who Got Away

EgyptAir a reminder of a time when hijackings were more common

Cypriot security forces take a sniffer dog into an EgyptAir Airbus A-320 parked at the tarmac of Larnaca airport after the six-hour hijacking of the plane came to an end on March 29, 2016.BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Imagecyp
Cypriot security forces take a sniffer dog into an EgyptAir Airbus A-320 parked at the tarmac of Larnaca airport after the six-hour hijacking of the plane came to an end on March 29, 2016.BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Imagecyp

The hijacking of an EgyptAir flight from Alexandria to Cairo was resolved peacefully in Cyprus on Tuesday. Police arrested the suspect at Larnaca Airport, where passengers and crew left the plane safely.  

Officials described the suspect as “unstable,” and said the hijacking was related to a problem with his ex-wife, a Cypriot.  

Although the man claimed to have an explosive belt — it wasn’t real — the incident seemingly rooted in a personal matter was more reminiscent of the “skyjacking”  era than the global terror threat today against aviation that had its roots in the 9/11 attacks.  

From the 1960s through the 1980s dozens of planes were hijacked for political and financial reasons. Compared to 21st century terrorists, these hijackers were more likely after money and safe passage rather than death and destruction. What seems remarkable today is the number of hijackers who got what they were after. These are some of the most fascinating stories:
D. B. Cooper  

FBI Sketch of D.B. Cooper, with age progression.
FBI Sketch of D.B. Cooper, with age progression.

Perhaps the most famous hijacking in which the perpetrator got away, D.B. Cooper is the name given to an unidentified man who hijacked a flight between Portland, Oregon, and Seattle in 1971, claiming he had a bomb in his briefcase. The airline complied with Cooper’s request for $200,000 and parachutes while the plane was on the ground in Seattle. Cooper then released all hostages except the flight crew, and the plane took off for a refueling stop in Reno, Nevada, on the way to Mexico. At some point between Seattle and Reno, Cooper left the plane with two parachutes and the cash. Though the FBI and experienced skydivers consider it unlikely he survived, the case is still active, and Cooper has not been found, dead or alive.

Charlie Hill

Charlie Hill was a member of the black revolutionary group the Republic of New Afrika in 1971, when he was suspected of killing a police officer during a traffic stop, a charge he denies. “We had to go into exile so we hijacked a plane,” he said . He and two others crashed onto the tarmac at Albuquerque International Airport in a stolen tow truck and hijacked a plane with a knife and gun. They wanted to fly to Africa, but the plane wasn’t capable, so they selected Cuba, known to be welcoming to American revolutionaries.  

Hill is the last of the three hijackers still living after 45 years. His extradition, along with that of other fugitives in Cuba, is sure to be a source of contention in President Barack Obama’s plan to reopen diplomatic relations with Cuba.

Luis Armando Peña Soltren

Courtroom sketch of Luis Armando Pena Soltren.
Courtroom sketch of Luis Armando Peña Soltren.

Luis Armando Peña Soltren, a U.S. citizen, was one of three men who hijacked a flight from New York City to San Juan, Puerto Rico, using knives and guns , and took it to Havana in 1968. No one was killed during the hijacking. Soltren lived for 41 years in Cuba, before surrendering to U.S. authorities in 2009. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison without the possibility of parole in 2011.

Patrick Dolan Critton

Like Charlie Hill, Patrick Dolan Critton  was a member of the New Afrika Republic who hijacked a plane to Havana in 1971. Avoiding a potential arrest for manufacturing explosives and bank robbery in New York, Critton went on the run in Canada, eventually hijacking a flight from Thunder Bay, Ontario, to Toronto with a gun and a grenade, shortly before the plane was scheduled to land.  

Critton spent some time confined to the so-called “Hijackers House” in Havana, a dorm that housed dozens of hijackers in poor conditions. He moved to Tanzania in 1974, started a family, taught history, and lived more than two decades there, before applying for an American passport in 1991. His passport was approved, inexplicably, and he returned to New York, where he became a popular youth mentor. He was discovered living under his real name by a Canadian detective’s Google search in 2001. When police came to arrest him he asked, “What took you so long? I’ve been waiting for that knock on the door for seven years.”  

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