[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
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
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
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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