A History of BAC-111 Aerial Hijackings

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The British Aircraft Corporation BAC-111, of which 233 were produced between 1963 and 1982 in the UK, was a low-capacity, short-range twin-jet in the Sud-Aviation SE.210 Caravelle, Tupolev Tu-134, and McDonnell-Douglas DC-9 class, powered by two aft fuselage-mounted Rolls Royce RB. 163 Spey turbofans. It was built with two fuselage lengths-the 89-passenger, short-body BAC-111-200, -300, -400, and -475, and the 119-passenger long-body BAC-111-500. Nine of the later, designated Rombac 1-11-560s, were also license-manufactured in Romania.

This study looks at the type’s aerial hijacking history.

The first recorded BAC-111 hijacking occurred four years after the aircraft entered service, on November 4, 1969, when two men commandeered a LANICA Airlines of Nicaragua example enroute from Miami to Mexico City. It landed in Grand Cayman, where the passengers were released, before continuing to tis destination with only the crew and the skyjackers themselves on board.

In the type’s second aerial piracy incident, which took place two years later, on September 14, 1970, a Tarom BAC-111 with five crew members and 84 passengers aboard was commandeered by three armed Hungarians shortly after takeoff from Budapest on the second leg of its dual-sector route from Bucharest to Prague. While it was forced to set course for Munich, it was revealed that two men, one woman, and two children were behind the act.

Safely landing in West Germany, the twin-jet taxied to the instructed parking position, where after it was unexpectedly evacuated after the crew learned that the hijackers had hidden a bomb on board. The event, it turned out, was proven false.

After confiscation of their weapons, they were sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison-an irony, since the goal of their aerial piracy had been freedom.

The BAC-111 was the first commercial jet to by skyjacked in Communist China in an event that occurred yet a year later, on March 30, 1971. Piloted by Captain Antonio Misa, the Philippine Airlines aircraft, with four other crew members and 44 passengers on board, was commandeered by five university students from Marawi, Mindanao, on its scheduled flight from Manila to Davao.

The flight’s diversion, accomplished with a carbine, a pair of scissors, and several pistols, occurred during its 1,000-mile crossing of the South China Sea. After its landing in Hong Kong, the students requested navigational charts to then-named Peking, which they were told were unavailable, but that the aircraft could divert to Canton, where they could secure them. Canton itself, they were advised, would then try to negotiate the Peking landing clearance for them. They accepted the proposal.

Refueled, the jetliner took to the air again, proceeding to Canton for a successful landing. But the hijackers who, in the event, were provided with none of the promised charts, forced 19 passengers to sit under the wing for two-and-a-half hours until fuel was delivered. Navigational aid was only given after they agreed to their release.

While they were fed and housed in a nearby dormitory, the BAC-111 took off, intending to cover the 40-mile distance to the mainland city, but it was quickly forced to return to Canton, where the skyjackers were ultimately taken into custody. With freedom to leave, the twin-jet left for Hong Kong, where they hostages were finally released.

The BAC-111 was also involved in the longest commercial airliner hijacking that spanned ten days, covered 8,800 miles, and entailed two separate aircraft.

The first of these, a Philippine Airlines example piloted by Captain Arnulfo Santos and carrying 73 passengers, routinely proceeded from Cagayan de Oro to Davao on April 7, 1976. Yet the flight plan was interrupted when three gun-flashing men, members of the Moro Liberation Front that fought for the country’s independent state in the south, forced the twin-jet to divert to Manila and demanded $300,000, drinking water, an internationally rated pilot, and sufficient fuel to fly to a destination they only labeled “westward.” Coupled with these demands was the release of four Philippine government-held political prisoners. Passenger deaths, they claimed, would be the consequence for failure to comply.

Touching down in Manila, the BAC-111 decelerated and remained on the runway where initial negotiations took place by radio. Although the prisoners could not be released, the hijackers were told, they were guaranteed that no harm would come to them themselves. Nevertheless, they ultimately agreed to release the passengers in exchange for Rafael Igoa, the airline’s vice president, who would personally deliver the monetary request. Ben Yadao, the assistant station manager, would accompany him.

Once the two airline officials and the money were on board, the aircraft took off, setting course for Kota Kinabalu in East Malaysia, but it was initially denied landing clearance until the vice president made a desperate plea, claiming that only 20 minutes of fuel remained on board.

After its wheels made ground contact, the BAC-111 was instructed to taxi to a remote area, where it would spend the night surrounded by some 200 policemen. No one was allowed to disembark.

Refueled the following morning, it was granted permission to re-take off, now enroute to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. But its alight was brief-only long enough for additional fuel provisioning-and was followed by a sector to Bangkok, Thailand, where negotiations were conducted with Philippine Ambassador Manuel T. Yan.

If they were provided with safe passage to Libya, they claimed, they would release the passengers. However, Libya itself had thus far failed to grant them clearance, prompting the hijackers to consider Egypt as an alternative.

Baking beneath the sweltering sun and denied air conditioning, the twin-jet sat on the ground, during which laborious, unproductive negotiations ensued. Yet the heat led to heart, because the hijackers granted small concessions, permitting two passengers at a time to leave the aircraft to wash, eat, and change, and two flight attendants to spend the night in a rest house.

Bangkok, initially intended as a short refueling stop, was quickly morphing into a semi-permanent base as aircraft mechanical difficulties were addressed and permission to all of the alternate destinations was denied, including Egypt. Spare parts, in the form of a wheel and an autopilot, were ultimately flown in from Manila.

Creature comforts finally materialized on the second day: a ground air conditioning unit brought passenger relief and sandwiches, coffee, and sodas served as much-needed physical replenishments. The hijackers themselves, maintaining a constant vigil, only consumer fruit, such as apples and bananas.

Responding to their demands, a Philippine Airlines DC-8 landed and the men, shielded from fire by the hostages, made the 300-yard transfer from the BAC-111. Five days after the aerial piracy had begun and 71 hours after landing in Thailand, they finally took to the air in the second aircraft, now bound for Karachi, Pakistan. On board were the twin-jet pilots, the airline’s vice president, the assistant station manager, and the eight DC-8 crew members. All others had been released.

Only after assurance of its immediate, post-refueling departure was the aircraft allowed to land in Karachi, but both Libya and Egypt remained adamant in their own denied landing permission. Without choice, it remained on the ground until 0500 the following day, before it took off for Benghazi, Libya. The remaining dozen hostages, they claimed, would be released if landing clearance was granted.

Yet the event pinnacled with tension when the skyjackers threatened to blow up the airliner if their surrender were not accepted. It finally was, and the DC-8 landed at 1200 noon, after a seven-hour flight.

Released after almost a week of captivity, the hostages were led away and the three hijackers were accepted into the country for “humanitarian reasons.”

“Three Philippine Moslems who hijacked an airliner over the southern part of their country a week ago freed their 12 hostages here today and surrendered to Libyan authorities,” according to the April 15, 1876 story in The New York Times.

“Security policemen took the hijackers away, and after a brief rest, the 12. Hostages (the 10 crew members, and two executives of Philippine Air Lines flew to Rome to begin their journey home.

“The hijacking was the longest in distance on record, totaling 8,800 miles, or about 1,150 miles longer than the hijacking of a jetliner from Texas to Argentina in 1971.”

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