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Hijacking is the assumption of control of a vehicle through some means of coercion, often the threat of violence. The two most prevalent forms of hijacking are of aircraft and automobiles. The motivations of these crimes differ greatly based on what is being hijacked, with the hijacking of planes often being politically motivated, while carjackers are usually financially motivated. Aircraft hijacking (also known as skyjacking and aircraft piracy) is the take-over of an aircraft, by a person or group, usually armed. The first recorded incident was in March 1912, and since then, there have been many larger, more destructive hijackings, including the September 11, 2001 attacks which led to the death of over 3,000 innocent people.

While law enforcement and international efforts have been made to increase security and reduce such threats, the ultimate solution to the problem of hijacking is to resolve the issues that drive the perpetrators to commit these crimes. Perpetrators who are willing to sacrifice their own lives in suicide missions will not be deterred by the threat of any kind of punishment, nor will they cease because of security measures taken in response to previously carried out actions. The solution to hijacking is not specific to the act but to the underlying problems of human suffering.


Did you know?
The term hijacking arose in connection with the seizing of liquor trucks during Prohibition in the United States.

The term hijacking arose in connection with the seizing of liquor trucks during Prohibition in the United States.[1] This usage in reference to commandeering vessels laden with valuable goods remains prevalent.

The first known carjacking took place on the open road in March 1912. The word carjacking is a portmanteau of car and hijacking. The Bonnot Gang targeted a luxury Dion Bouton in the Senart forest between Paris and Lyon, France. The armed chauffeur and young secretary in the vehicle were killed.[2]

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 they would release him in return for flying one of their number to Lima. Most hijackings have not been so farcical.

The first attempted hijack of a commercial airliner reportedly happened on July 16, 1948, when a failed effort to gain control of the Miss Macao, a seaplane of a Cathay Pacific subsidiary company, caused it to crash into the sea off Macau. On June 30, 1948, a Bulgarian commercial Junkers plane was successfully hijacked to Istanbul by a discharged diplomat and his family, who had to shoot dead the co-pilot (who happened to be the head of Bulgaria's civil aviation) and the radio operator in order to escape to the West.

The first state-hijacking of an airplane was Israel's hijacking of a Syrian airways civilian jet in 1954, with the intent "to obtain hostages in order to obtain the release of our prisoners in Damascus," who had been captured spying in Syria. Prime Minister Moshe Sharett accepted the "factual affirmation of the U.S. State Department that our action was without precedent in the history of international practice."

Since 1947, sixty percent of hijackings have been refugee escapes. In 1968-1969 there was a massive rise in the number of hijackings. In 1968 there were 27 hijackings and attempted hijackings to Cuba. In 1969 there were 82 recorded hijack attempts worldwide, more than twice the total attempts from the 1947-1967 period. At that time, Palestinians were using hijacks as a political weapon to publicize their cause and to force the Israeli government to release Palestinian prisoners from jail.

Airliner hijackings have declined since the peak of 385 incidents between 1967-1976. In 1977-1986 the total had dropped to 300 incidents and in 1987-1996 this figure was reduced to 212.


Carjackers often act when drivers are stopped at intersections, stop lights, signs, or highway entry points. They take advantage of the stopped car to threaten the driver and assume control of the vehicle.

In most cases of airplane hijacking, the pilot is forced to fly according to the orders of the hijackers. Alternatively one of the hijackers can fly the plane himself, as was the case in the September 11, 2001 attacks; hijackers took flying lessons as preparation, or were selected by Al-Qaeda based partly on flying skills. In one case the official pilot hijacked the plane: In October, 1998, on an Air China flight from Beijing to Kunming in Yunnan, he flew to Taiwan after threatening to crash the plane, killing the passengers, if other members of the crew prevented him from flying to Taiwan.[3]

Unlike the hijacking of land vehicles or ships, skyjacking is usually not perpetrated in order to rob the cargo. Rather, most aircraft hijackings are committed to use the passengers as hostages in an effort to obtain transportation to a given location, to hold them for ransom, or, as in the case of the American planes that were hijacked to Cuba during the 1960s and 1970s, the release of comrades being held in prison. Another common motive is publicity for some cause or grievance.

Hijackings for hostages have usually followed a pattern of negotiations between the hijackers and the authorities, followed by some form of settlement—not always the meeting of the hijackers' original demands—or the storming of the aircraft by armed police or special forces to rescue the hostages. Since the use of hijacked planes as suicide missiles in September 11, 2001 attacks, hijacking has become a different kind of security threat—though similar usages had apparently been attempted by Samuel Byck in 1974 and on Air France Flight 8969 in 1994. Prior to September, 2001, the policy of most airlines was for the pilot to comply with hijackers' demands in the hope of a peaceful outcome. Since then, policies have reversed course, in favor of arming and armoring the cockpit.

Hijacking and terrorism

Though not all hijackings are terrorism related, there exists a connection between the two. The most infamous example of this connection is the September 11, 2001 attacks executed by al Qaeda in which over 3,000 people were killed between the passengers and the targets into which they were flown. Another famous example is the September 1970 hijacking of four jets by Palestinian militants wanting the release of their comrades.[4]

Hijacking presents terrorists with a very visible method of obtaining attention for their cause. The importance of airplanes as symbols of commerce and freedom makes them effective as prime targets. Additionally, the naturally confined passengers are ideal hostages, as escape is not a possibility.

Terrorists have also hijacked other means of transportation including boats and trains. Nine Dutch Moluccans hijacked a train from Assen to Groningen in 1977, in an effort to obtain an independent homeland.[5] In 1985, four men representing the Palestine Liberation Front hijacked the passenger liner Achille Lauro, demanding the release of 50 Israeli-held prisoners. In March 2006, Marxist Naxals hijacked a passenger train in northern India to protest the death of one of their members. They also robbed the passengers aboard.[6]

Hijacking Airplanes


There are three international agreements relevant to aircraft hijacking: The Tokyo Convention, the Hague Convention, and the Montreal Convention. Only the Hague Convention was convened specifically to address hijacking, the others refer to various other security aspects of aviation. Signed in the Hague on December 16, 1970, The "Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft" contains 14 articles relating to what constitutes hijacking and guidelines for what is expected of governments when dealing with hijackings. This article was inspired by a rash of airplane hijackings in the late 1960s.[7] The convention does not apply to customs, law enforcement, or military aircraft. Thus its scope appears to exclusively encompass civilian aircraft. Importantly, the convention only comes into force if the aircraft takes off or lands in a place different than its place of registration. For aircraft with joint registration, one country is designated as the registration state for the purpose of the convention. The Hague Convention is significant in its establishment of an international definition of aircraft hijacking and a set of guidelines to address it. The full text can be found on the United Nations website.[8]


Options for preventing hijacking include screening to keep weapons off the airplane, putting air marshals on flights, and fortifying the cockpit to keep hijackers out. Cockpit doors on most commercial airlines have been strengthened, and are now bullet proof.

In the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, and India, 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.

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

United States commercial aircraft pilots now have an option of carrying a pistol on the flight deck, as a last resort to thwart hijack attempts. Opponents argued that shooting down the aircraft and killing everyone on board would be more reasonable than a pilot firing a pistol in an airliner at a flight deck intruder, due to the danger of explosive decompression. Such objections have been countered as baseless.[9]

Since "Hi, Jack" and "hijack" are homophones, this greeting is now widely regarded as a security threat in many airports. Los Angeles International Airport has reminded people not to say "Hi, Jack" or "Hey, Jack," but rather, to say "Hello, Jack" instead.

One task of airport security is to prevent hijacks by screening passengers and keeping anything that could be used as a weapon, including small objects like nail clippers, from being taken aboard the aircraft.

Hijacking automobiles

United States

In the United States, a law was passed in 1992 making carjacking a federal crime. This occurred amidst great media attention into the apparent spike of carjacking thefts, several of which resulted in homicide. One of these was the notorious September 1992 carjacking of Pam Basu in Savage, Maryland. Basu was carjacked at a stop sign in town; she soon became entangled in her seatbelt and then dragged to death. Libertarians and states' rights activists criticized this law, arguing that the control of crime is a matter for the states, not the federal government.

The United States Department of Justice estimates that in about one half of all carjacking attempts the attacker succeeds in stealing the victim's car. It estimated that, between 1987 and 1992, about 35,000 carjacking attempts took place per year, and, between 1992 and 1996, about 49,000 attempts took place per year. Carjacking has become more frequent because sophisticated devices and computer systems have prevented and discouraged theft of unattended cars.

United Kingdom

English law has three levels of offense under the Theft Act 1968, each pertaining to the mens rea (Latin for "guilty mind") and the degree of violence used. The least serious is Taken Without Owner's Consent (TWOC), which covers any unauthorized taking of a "conveyance," s1 theft applies when the carjacker intends to permanently deprive the owner of property, while violent carjacking is an aggravated form of theft under §8 robbery.

Hijacking in the twenty-first century

Before the September 11, 2001 attacks, plane crews advised passengers to sit quietly in order to increase their chances of survival. An unofficial protocol emerged, in which civilians and government authorities understood that in most cases violence from the hijackers was unlikely as long as they achieved their goal (often, as during the rash of American incidents in the 1970s, a trip to Cuba).

Since the September 11 attacks by terrorists, the situation for passengers and hijackers has changed. As in the example 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, increasing the potential for bloody conflict.

Several nations have stated that they would shoot down hijacked commercial aircraft, despite killing innocent passengers on board, if it could be assumed that the hijackers intent was to use the aircraft in 9/11-style as a weapon. According to reports, U.S. fighter pilots have been trained in shooting down commercial airliners.[10] Other countries such as Poland[11] and India[12] enacted laws or decrees that allow shooting down hijacked planes, although the Polish Constitutional Court later decided that the regulations were unconstitutional and dismissed them. [13]

Well-known hijackings

  • Cuba 1958, November 1: First Cuba-to-U.S. hijacking. A Cuban plane en route from Miami to Varadero to Havana was hijacked by Cuban militants. The hijackers were trying to land at Sierra Cristal in Eastern Cuba to deliver weapons to Raúl Castro's rebels. As night approached, the plane ran out of fuel and tried an emergency landing at the Preston sugar mill. It fell short and instead landed in the ocean, breaking apart and killing most passengers and crew.[14]
  • Palestine 1968: The first Arab-Israeli hijacking, as three members of Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) hijacked an El Al plane to Rome. Diverting to Algiers, the negotiations extended over forty days. Both the hijackers and the hostages were set free. This was the first and the only successful hijacking of an El Al flight.
  • Western Europe 1970: Four Palestinian militants took control of four planes headed from Amsterdam, Frankfurt, and Zurich headed for New York in order to negotiate the release of their allies from prison.
  • United States 1971: D. B. Cooper hijacked Northwest Orient Airlines flight 305 and obtained $200,000 ransom for the release of the plane's passengers. Cooper proceeded to parachute from the rear of the Boeing 727 and was never found.
  • United States 1974 February 22: Samuel Byck shot and killed Maryland Aviation Administration Police Officer Neal Ramsburg at BWI before storming aboard Delta Air Lines flight 523 to Atlanta. He gained access to the cockpit while the plane was on the ground, intending to assassinate President Richard Nixon by flying the DC-9 into the White House. He shot both the pilot and the copilot before he was shot through the aircraft window by another officer.
  • Palestine 1976: On 27 June, an Air France plane with 248 passengers and a flight crew of 12 was hijacked by Palestinian terrorists and supporters and flown to Entebbe, near Kampala, the capital of Uganda. Non-Israeli passengers were released.[15] Israel Defense Forces (IDF) rescued 102 hostages in an assault on the building. Three hostages, all the hijackers, and one Israeli commando were killed; a fourth hostage died in a Ugandan hospital, apparently at the hands of Ugandan forces.[16] 45 Ugandan soldiers also died in the raid, when they opened fire on the Israeli forces.
  • Malaysia 1977 December 4: A Boeing 737, Malaysia Airlines Flight 653, was hijacked and crashed in Tanjung Kupang, Johore killing 100 people aboard.
  • Cyprus 1978: Two Arab guerrillas seized a plane in Cyprus. Egyptian commandos flew in uninvited to try to take the plane. Cypriot troops resisted and 15 Egyptians died in a 45-minute battle.
  • United States 1979, June 20 and June 21: An American Airlines flight from New York to Chicago was hijacked by Nikola Kavaja, a Serbian nationalist, demanding the release of a jailed fellow nationalist. Unable to secure his comrade's release, the hijacker released all hostages except for the pilot, co-pilot, and one flight attendant. They flew from Chicago back to New York where he transferred to a Boeing 707, which flew to Ireland where the hijacker surrendered and was returned to the United States for trial. The weapon used was a home-made bomb. There were no casualties.[17]
  • Indonesia 1981: The Hijacking of Flight Garuda Indonesia GA 206 on March 28, 1981. The hijackers, a group called Commando Jihad, hijacked the DC 9 "Woyla," onroute from Palembang to Medan, and ordered the pilot to fly the plane to Colombo, Sri Lanka. But since the plane did not have enough fuel, it refueled in Penang, Malaysia and then flew to Don Muang, Thailand. The hijackers demanded the release of Commando Jihad members imprisoned in Indonesia, and U.S. $ 1.5 million, as well as a plane to take those prisoners to an unspecified destination. The Kopassus commandos who took part in this mission trained for only three days with totally unfamiliar weapons. One of the Kopassus commandos was shot by the hijacker leader, who then shot himself. All the other hijackers were killed. All the hostages were saved.
  • Ireland 1981: An Aer Lingus flight from Dublin to London was hijacked and diverted to Le Touquet in France by a man demanding that the Pope release the third secret of Fatima. While authorities negotiated with the hijacker by radio in the cockpit, French special forces entered the rear of the aircraft and overpowered him.
  • India 1984, August 24: Seven young Sikh hijackers demanded an Indian Airlines jetliner flying from Delhi to Srinagar be flown to the United States. The plane was taken to UAE where the defense minister of UAE negotiated the release of the passengers. It was related to the Sikh secessionist struggle in the Indian state of Punjab.[18]
  • Lebanon 1984: Lebanese Shi'a hijackers diverted a Kuwait Airways flight to Tehran. The plane was taken by Iranian security forces who were dressed as custodial staff.[19]
  • Algeria 1994: Air France Flight 8969 was hijacked by four GIA terrorists planning to crash into the Eiffel Tower. After the execution of 3 passengers, GIGN commandos stormed the plane, killing all hijackers and freeing all passengers.
  • United States 2001: September 11 attacks, eastern U.S.: 19 terrorists hijack four planes (American Airlines Flight 11, American Airlines Flight 77, United Airlines Flight 93, and United Airlines Flight 175). The aircraft were used as missiles to cause infrastructure damage in the worst terrorist attack on American soil in history; two of the planes, United Airlines Flight 175 and Flight 11 were crashed into New York City's World Trade Center towers, destroying the entire complex. American Airlines Flight 77 was used in a similar fashion at the Pentagon, in Washington, D.C., which caused the destruction of a portion of the building. They are the three most deadly of all aircraft hijackings. In the case of United 93, the intention was likely the same but the passengers, learning of the fate of the other three planes, attacked the cockpit, causing the hijackers to crash the plane in rural Pennsylvania, killing all on board.
  • Turkey 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.
  • Russia 2007: an Aeroflot Airbus A320 flying from Moscow to Geneva was hijacked by a drunk man in Prague. The crew and passengers were released after his arrest by the Czech police.
  • Mauritania 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.
  • Cuba 2007: Cuban military deserters hijacked a bus, then used it to get into an airport's terminal, where they failed to hijack an aircraft en-route to the United States. One military commander was killed.
  • Cyprus 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.[20]
  • Turkey 2011: Turkish Airlines Flight 1754, flying from Oslo, Norway to Istanbul, was in Bulgarian airspace when an unsuccessful attempt was made to hijack it. The hijacker said that he had a bomb and that he would blow up the aircraft unless the plane returned to Norway. Passengers overpowered the hijacker and the flight safely landed at Atatürk International Airport, Istanbul. There were no injuries and the suspect was arrested.[21]


  1. Roy Olmstead, Historylink. Retrieved June 14, 2007.
  2. Driver Magazine, Carjacking. Retrieved May 30, 2007.
  3. B. Raman, Air China pilot hijacks his own jet to Taiwan CNN. (1998). Retrieved January 25, 2007.
  4. BBC, On this day. Retrieved June 9, 2007.
  5. Dutch News, Moluccans remember train hijack. Retrieved June 14, 2007.
  6. Institute of Peace & Conflict Studies, Hijacking Train: The New Face of Red Terror. Retrieved June 14, 2007.
  7. Sami Shubber, "Aircraft Hijacking under the Hague Convention 1970: A New Regime?" The International and Comparative Law Quarterly, Vol. 22, No. 4. (Oct., 1973): 687-726.
  8. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft.
  9. Gadgetopia, The Truth About Explosive Decompression. Retrieved May 30, 2007.
  10. BBC, US pilots train shooting civilian planes. Retrieved May 30, 2007.
  11. BBC, Poland to down hijacked aircraft, January 13, 2005. Retrieved May 30, 2007.
  12. BBC, "India adopts tough hijack policy", August 14, 2005. Retrieved July 26, 2011.
  13. Permissibility of shooting down a passenger aircraft in the event of a danger that it has been used for unlawful acts, and where state security is threatened, Judgement of 30th September 2008, K 44/07. Retrieved July 26, 2011.
  14. Planecrashinfo.com, Accident details. Retrieved May 30, 2007.
  15. Yossi Melman, "Setting the record straight: Entebbe was not Auschwitz", Haaretz.com, July 8, 20011. Retrieved July 26, 2011.
  16. Robert Verkaik, "Revealed: the fate of Idi Amin's hijack victim", The Independent February 13, 2007. Retrieved July 26, 2011.
  17. Christopher S. Stewart, Nikola Kavaja: Interview with an Assassin. Retrieved December 10, 2006.
  18. Aviation Safety Network, Hijacking. Retrieved May 30, 2007.
  19. BBC, History of airliner hijackings. Retrieved May 30, 2007.
  20. Sebnem Arsu, "Pilots and passengers foil hijacking of Turkish jet", The New York Times, August 19, 2007. Retrieved July 26, 2011.
  21. "Turkish Airlines hijack attempt foiled by passengers", Hürriyet Daily News, January 5, 2011. Retrieved July 26, 2011.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Baker, David. Hijacking And Security. Rourke Publishing, 2005. ISBN 1595154884
  • de B. Taillon, J. Paul. Hijacking and Hostages: Government Responses to Terrorism. Praeger Publishers, 2002. ISBN 0275974685
  • Raab, David. Terror in Black September: The First Eyewitness Account of the Infamous 1970 Hijackings. Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. ISBN 978-1403984203
  • Stevenson, William. 90 minutes at Entebbe. Bantam Books, 1976. ISBN 978-0553104820

External links

All links retrieved July 17, 2024.


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