When was the last time you were on a plane that was hijacked? Luckily, most of us can answer “never”. The airline industry has instituted security standards that make it almost impossible for hijackers to be successful. What many people may not realize is that hijacking planes in the late 1960s and 1970s was a frequent occurrence.
The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking by Brendan I. Koerner focuses on the history of airplane hijacking and the longest-distance hijacking in history. In 1972, Vietnam veteran Roger Holder and his girlfriend Cathy Kerkow hijacked Western Airlines flight 701 with the initial demands of $3 million in ransom and a final destination of North Vietnam. They were informed that ransom amount was going to be impossible to secure in his timeframe and the current plane wasn’t big enough to fly that distance. After brief negotiation, Holder agreed to $500,000, a plan to switch planes, and a final destination of Algiers where he would request asylum.
Mixed in with the tale of Holder and Kerkow, Koerner explains how starting in 1968, airplane hijackings happened on almost a weekly basis. The policy within most airlines at this time was to cooperate fully with hijackers in order to avoid any violence. If a commercial flight was hijacked, the passengers were simply taken for a ride. There are stories of many hijackers demanding to be flown to Cuba with delusions of Castro welcoming them with open arms (most ended up in Cuban prisons), weapons brought aboard in the cases of musical instruments, and one vigilante who drove his Cadillac right onto the tarmac in an attempt to thwart a hijacking. Even with all of these incidents, the FAA was hesitant to incorporate security measures saying “Can you imagine the line that would form from the ticket counter in Miami if everyone had to submit to police inspections?”
After reading The Skies Belong to Us, I’ve come to remember that true life can be at least as thrilling and often more outlandish than fiction. I highly recommend this book for those who enjoy true crime, watching shows like 20/20, or are simply interested in the wild world of the American skies. It’s one of my favorite books that’s I’ve read this year!
You can place a hold on the book in the Deerfield Public Library catalog right now. If you have to wait, be sure to check out “You Might Also Like These…” at the bottom of the catalog page.
This review was previously published by the Deerfield Review.