Famous Hijackings in History


Hijacking is an unauthorized or illegal seizure and control of a vehicle, usually applied to commandeering of an aircraft, which is diverted by from its scheduled course in order to get ransom, to record a protest, or to get some political concessions. Gerald Cohen in Studies in Slang II, published in 1989, suggested that the word might have originated from the zinc ore called ‘jack’ and its miners were called ‘jackers,’ while the miners of high-quality zinc ore were known as ‘hijackers.’ Hijacking of trucks for stealing the truck’s load of alcoholic drinks during the Prohibition Period was the first common practice of hijacking. Ships had been and are being continuously hijacked, and the specific term in this case is called piracy.

1. Hijackers in the September 11 Attacks 

Hijackers in the September 11 Attacks
Hijacker Abdulaziz Alomari

On the morning of September 11, 2011, four flights were simultaneously hijacked by Al-Qaeda. They included American Airlines Flight 11, American Airlines Flight 77, United Airlines Flight 175, and United Airlines Flight 93. Flights 11 and 175 were intentionally crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Flight 77 was crashed into the Pentagon, while Flight 93 crashed into a Pennsylvanian field. Both the towers collapsed killing 2,996 people including 19 hijackers, leaving about 6,000 people wounded. These attacks led to the American War on Terror changing the state of affairs in the whole world. Four of the hijackers were trained pilots while the others were trained terrorists. It was the worst and deadliest hijacking of all time in the history of aviation.

2. Air France Flight 139; Wilfried Bose and Brigitte Kuhlmann

Wilfried Bose and Brigitte Kuhlmann
Wilfried Bose

An Airbus A300 carrying 246 passengers and crew of 12 took off from Tel Aviv, Israel to conduct Air France Flight 139. There were 58 other passengers waiting to board at the  Athens airport, and they included 4 hijackers, 2 from the Palestine Front of Liberation of Palestine ”œ External Operations, PELP-EO; and 2 from the German Revolutionary Cells identified as Wilfried Bose and Brigitte Kuhlmann. After refueling at Benghazi, Libya and releasing a sick woman, the plane arrived at Entebbe Airport in Uganda. The hijackers demanded the release of 40 Palestinians held in Israel and 13 detainees from Kenya, France, Switzerland, and West Germany, and threatened to kill the hostages in case their demands were not met. Uganda’s President Idi Amin supported the hijackers. The hijackers kept the hostages captive for one week in the transit hall of the Entebbe Airport. An Israeli task force, under the command of Yonatan Netanyahu, freed the hostages. All seven hijackers were killed. The Israeli Commander Netanyahu too was killed in this counter-hijacking attack. About 40 Ugandan Army soldiers were killed, and 11 Ugandan Mig-17 fighter planes were destroyed. William Stevenson’s 90 Minutes at Entebbe is an enlightening army classic.

3. Miss Macao 

Miss Macao, a Catalina seaplane
Miss Macao, a Catalina seaplane

Miss Macao was a Cathy Pacific PBY-5A Catalina seaplane. It was hijacked on July 16, 1948 for piracy and ransom. There were 23 passengers and 3 crew members on board. Twenty-five of them were killed leaving a Chinese, Huang Yu, as the only survivor. The site of the crash was Jizhou Yang on the Pearl River Delta. The pilot refused to take orders from the hijackers and was shot dead with the consequent crash. The hijacker who survived was brought to the Macau court which diverted it to Hong Kong, and they too disowned the case. The hijacker was released from the Macau prison without trial on June 11, 1951 and was deported to the People’s Republic of China.

4. TWA Flight 85

TWA Flight 85
TWA Flight 85

A 19-year-old U.S. Marine, Raffael Minichiello, hijacked TWA Flight 85 on October 31, 1969. He released all the passengers including the Harper’s Bazaar executive and three stewardesses in Denver. The hijacker, along with three pilots and a stewardess, continued on to JKF airport, U.S. where two pilots were added for the international flight. The plane was refueled at Bangor and Shannon. In Rome, the hijacker took the chief of police as a hostage and left the plane in a car wherefrom he slipped on the way but was caught soon afterwards. The motive behind the hijacking was neither robbery nor ransom or any other political motive. The hijacker wanted to see his dying father in Italy. He was released after serving 18 months in jail. It was the longest distance hijacking case by an individual.

5. Korean Air Lines YS-11


A Korean Airlines NAMC YS-11 aircraft, while on a scheduled flight from Gangneung to Seoul, was hijacked by a North Korean agent at 12:25 p.m. on December 11, 1969. The craft was carrying 46 passengers and 4 crew members. Thirty-nine passengers were returned after 66 days while the crew and 7 passengers were held hostage. North Korea claimed that the hijackers intended to record a protest against the policies of the then-President of South Korea Park Chung-hee. Another version is that a senior member of the United States Air Force in South Korea was scheduled to board the craft but changed his schedule at the last minute. He could have been an intended target by the hijacker.

6.  Eastern Air Lines Shuttle Flight 1320

First Officer James Hartley
First Officer James Hartley

John J. Divivo hijacked a McDonnell Douglas DC-9-31 craft at 7:30 p.m. on March 17, 1970. The plane was scheduled to conduct Eastern Air Lines Shuttle Flight 1320. The hijacker was armed with a 0.38 caliber revolver. There were 68 passengers and 5 crew members on board. Out of all of them, 1 was killed, 2 were injured, and 72 survived. The hijacker shot the arm of the captain, Robert Wilbur, Jr. While bleeding heavily, the captain managed to land safely while the co-pilot, First Officer James Hartley was shot dead. In spite of being fatally wounded, Hartley snatched the gun from the hijacker and shot at him thrice before he collapsed. The hijacker was arrested, and he hanged himself while in Charles Street Jail awaiting trial.

7. Dawson’s Field Hijackings


Dawson's Field Hijackings
Dawson’s Field Hijackings

awson’s Field hijackings seem to have some resemblance with the 9/11 attacks. The PFLP planned and attempted hijacking five airplanes simultaneously on September 6, 1970. The flights bound for New York included: TWA 741 from Frankfurt, a Boeing 707; Swissair Flight 100; ElAl Flight 219 from Amsterdam; Pan Am Flight 93, and BOAC Flight 775. Three of their attempts were successful, and they forced the planes to fly to the Jordanian desert where they destroyed the planes after releasing the majority of the hostages. The remaining hostages were also released in exchange for the release of seven Palestinian prisoners.

8. D. B. Cooper; Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 305

D. B. Cooper
D. B. Cooper

Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 305 conducted by a Boeing 727-100, while flying from Portland, OR to Seattle WA, was hijacked by D. B. Cooper for ransom. The hijacker was given by the FBI on demand a ransom of $200,000 and a parachute when the flight landed in Seattle. The hijacker released all the passengers and one flight attendant. After refueling, the plane took off and left for Reno, NV. Cooper opened the aft stairs and jumped out of the plane in a heavy rainstorm wearing the parachute. Nothing is known exactly about what happened afterwards, but the FBI opines he did not survive.

9. Malaysia Airlines Flight 653; Unknown Hijackers

A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 737-200 identical to Flight 653.
A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 737-200 identical to Flight 653.

Malaysia Airlines Flight 653; a Boeing 737-2H6, was hijacked on December 4, 1977 soon after it attained its cruise altitude. The plane was carrying 93 passengers and 7 crew members. It is believed the hijacker was an individual belonging to the Japanese Red Army. The hijacker shot both the pilots as well as himself. The plane consequently crashed at Tanjung, Kupang, Johor in Malaysia killing all 93 passengers and the crew members along with the hijacker. It was the first and deadliest hijacking in the history of Malaysian aviation.

10. Egypt Air Flight 648

Boeing 737-266
Boeing 737-266

The Cairo-bound Egypt Air Flight 648 took off from Athens on November 23, 1985. Only ten minutes after taking off, three Palestinian members belonging to Abu Nidal, hijacked the plane.  It was a Boeing 737-200 airliner and was carrying 89 passengers, 6 crew members, and 3 hijackers. The hijackers were heavily armed. When they started checking the passenger’s passports, an Egyptian security guard opened fire killing one of the hijackers. The plane was forced to descend. The pilot was forced to land at Luga Airport. During the ordeal, 60 passengers including 2 hijackers were killed while 38 passengers including 1 hijacker survived. It was one of the deadliest hijackings in the history of aviation.


Hijacking is a hybrid of robbery and blackmailing, and it is applicable not only to the illegal seizure and control of all sorts of vehicles but also to numerous other objects. Whereas the scope of hijacking includes the material objects and physical control, it is not limited to the physical objects only. An idea or a concept, for example, may be hijacked if stolen and realized by unauthorized people prior to its being realized by the originator.


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