[Ppnews] On the run for 41 years, hijacker traced to Portugal

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Sep 27 21:33:17 EDT 2011



On the run for 41 years, hijacker traced to Portugal

By Tim Lister, CNN
updated 5:38 PM EST, Tue September 27, 2011
http://www.cnn.com/2011/09/27/justice/hijacker-found/index.html?hpt=hp_t2

The FBI has finally found George Wright, a man who escaped from 
Bayside State Prison in New Jersey in 1970.

(CNN) -- He had been on the run for four decades. He escaped from 
prison when Richard Nixon was in the White House, joined the Black 
Liberation Army in Detroit, hijacked a plane and (in)famously 
demanded that FBI agents deliver ransom money in bathing suits. And they did.

Now, after a manhunt spanning three continents that often appeared to 
run cold, the FBI has finally found George Wright.

At age 68, he was living quietly in the resort of Sintra near Lisbon 
in Portugal when he was arrested Monday.

The United States is seeking his extradition from Portugal to serve 
the remainder of a 15- to 30-year sentence for murder. Portuguese 
judicial authorities could not be reached Tuesday for details of the 
extradition process.

Wright is fighting extradition, a U.S. federal agent said, and his 
next court appearance in Portugal is in about two weeks.

Wright's life story reads like an international crime novel. In 1962, 
at the age of 19, he and three associates carried out a series of 
robberies in New Jersey. Wright and another man shot and killed a 
World War II veteran in a gas station robbery in Farmingdale.

He was arrested soon afterward and, after pleading no defense, was 
sentenced to 15 to 30 years in prison. But in 1970, Wright escaped 
from Bayside State Prison in Leesburg, New Jersey, reportedly 
stealing the warden's car to make his getaway.

Wright made his way to Detroit, then a hotbed of militant black 
politics, and joined the Black Liberation Army. (He is also reputed 
to have made some money during this period as a part-time model, 
using an alias.)

On July 31, 1972, Wright and four other members of the Black 
Liberation Army went to Detroit airport and boarded Delta Flight 841 
for Miami. Wright was dressed as a priest and carried a handgun in a 
hollowed-out Bible.

Airport security was different in those days. Various Palestinian 
groups were hijacking planes regularly, as were individuals keen to 
go to Cuba. Altogether, the U.S. Department of Transportation 
recorded 364 hijackings worldwide between 1968 and 1972: more than 
one a week on average.

The hijackers of Delta 841 -- three men and two women accompanied by 
three children -- seized the plane as it approached Miami. The FBI 
says "subsequent investigation identified Wright as one of the hijackers."

Once on the ground, the hijackers demanded that FBI agents dressed 
only in bathing suits deliver $1 million ransom to the plane. They 
wanted to be sure the agents were not carrying guns. The money was 
duly delivered by the scantily clad agents.

The hijackers allowed the 88 passengers off but kept the flight crew 
on board and ordered that the plane fly to Boston. With the addition 
of an extra navigator (wearing swim trunks and a shirt), the DC-8 was 
refueled there and flew on to Algiers.

Algeria in the early 1970s was run by a hard-line socialist 
government that was no friend of the United States and allowed 
various dissidents, militants and alleged terrorists to take 
sanctuary there. A leading member of the Black Panthers, Eldridge 
Cleaver, had been welcomed as a political refugee there in 1968 after 
jumping bail in California.

The Algerian government confiscated and returned the $1 million in 
ransom money to the U.S., but Wright and his associates melted away. 
Some of the hijackers were arrested in Paris in 1976, but for 
decades, there was no trace of Wright.

Then, nine years ago, a fugitive investigator with the New Jersey 
Department of Corrections working with the U.S. Marshals Service got 
a lead. Officials won't comment on reports that Walker had begun to 
contact relatives in the U.S.

Juan Mattos, U.S. marshal for the District of New Jersey, said: "Over 
the course of nine years, their tenacious resolve has proven to be 
very powerful in seeking justice and closure for the victims."

And in a press release Tuesday, Michael Ward of the FBI's Newark 
Division said the case should "serve notice that the FBI's 
determination in pursuing subjects will not diminish over time or distance."

At the time of the hijacking, there was limited screening of 
passengers at U.S. airports. This screening system did not require 
every passenger to be examined, only those who met a profile 
established by the Federal Aviation Administration.

After the Algiers flight and several hijackings that turned violent, 
the Nixon administration instructed the FAA to adopt emergency 
regulations to improve screening. At the end of 1972, the FAA ordered 
airports to ensure that all passengers and their carry-on baggage be 
inspected before boarding.

CNN's Emily Smith contributed to this report.




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