Hijackings were once a dime a dozen and usually ended without violence: this one didn’t.
SOMEWHERE OVER ROMANIA — If you are on a plane and someone stands up and says ‘take this plane to Cuba’ you may think you are in a time warp. This was indeed a regular occurrence in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Between 1968 and 1972, more than 130 American airplanes were hijacked: sometimes there was more than one hijacking on the same day. The hijackers often asked to be flown to communist Cuba.
Hijackings and other mid-air crises are not funny to be sure, no matter what the 1980 parody film Airplane! tried to tell us. It is true, nevertheless, that many, if not most, hijackings ended peacefully as pilots chose to acquiesce to the hijacker(s)’ demands and land the plane without incident.
There have been some spectacular exceptions of course. But did you know that the first fatal hijacking occurred on this day in 1947? And that it occurred in the early days of post WWII communism-imposed Romania (remember the Cold War days? They defined the early part of my career in intelligence).
On July 25, 1947 three Romanian army officers took command of a Tara (precursor to the current national Tarom airline) flight from Bucharest to Craiova in the country’s southwest. They demanded to be flown to Istanbul : the flight engineer’s efforts to resist the attack cost his life, as he was shot by lieutenant Aurel Dobrea. Upon arrival all three were arrested, tried and convicted.
Just 10 minutes after take-off, Ciobanu was pointed a gun to his head and ordered to leave the route and fly to Turkey. Flight engineer’s efforts to resist the attack cost his life, as he was shot by lieutenant Aurel Dobrea.
Typically for a Communist regime, Romanian authorities considered the pilot Vasile Ciobanu a traitor and sentenced him to 16 years in prison and hard labour. For having his aircraft hijacked! Go figure.
With all the safety enhancements placed on flying since 9/11 it is probable that hijackings will become rarer and rarer. The ‘golden age’ of this crime is most likely over. Besides, now you can get cheap flights to Cuba!