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Context of 'November 10-12, 1972: Hijackers Threaten to Crash a Plane into a Nuclear Facility in ‘the Most Chilling Domestic Hijacking in US History’'

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William Haas, the pilot of Southern Airways Flight 49.William Haas, the pilot of Southern Airways Flight 49. [Source: Smithsonian Institution]Three men hijack a commercial airliner and threaten to crash it into a nuclear plant, and authorities also fear they might crash it into President Richard Nixon’s winter home in Florida. [Graff, 2011, pp. 43-47] The hijacking occurs on Southern Airways Flight 49, a DC-9 bound from Memphis, Tennessee, to Miami, Florida, with scheduled stops in Birmingham, Alabama, Montgomery, Alabama, and Orlando, Florida. [Slate, 6/19/2013] The plane has 27 passengers and four crew members on board. The hijackers—three men with criminal records—are Lewis Moore, Henry Jackson, and Melvin Cale. The aim of the hijacking, Moore will later say, is to bring attention to the brutality and racism of the Detroit Police Department. The ordeal, which lasts 29 hours, is, at the current time, “the most chilling domestic hijacking in US history,” according to national security historian Timothy Naftali. [Naftali, 2005, pp. 61; Detroit Free Press, 6/6/2016]
Hijackers Demand a $10 Million Ransom - The hijackers manage to smuggle guns and grenades onto Flight 49 in a raincoat. [Slate, 6/19/2013] The plane takes off from Memphis at 5:05 p.m. on November 10. The hijackers seize control of it at 7:22 p.m., during the second leg of the flight. One of them enters the cockpit carrying a revolver and with an arm around the neck of a flight attendant. He tells the pilot, William Haas, “Head north, Captain, this is a hijacking.” [Detroit Free Press, 11/12/1972; Graff, 2011, pp. 43] The hijackers demand $10 million to release the plane. [Naftali, 2005, pp. 61] Haas transmits a hijack code to air traffic controllers who, in response, begin the well-known and widely used procedures for dealing with a hijacking. They notify the FBI in Washington, DC, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s special hijacking command post.
Airline Is Told of the Hijackers' Ransom Demand - The plane lands in Jackson, Mississippi, at 8:10 p.m. to be refueled and then takes off at 8:36 p.m., heading for Detroit, Michigan, where the hijackers intend to settle their complaints with city officials. At around 10:30 p.m., while the plane is circling over Detroit, the FBI notifies the city’s mayor and Southern Airways of the hijackers’ ransom demand. At 12:05 a.m. on November 11, the plane leaves the Detroit area due to bad weather and heads for Cleveland, Ohio, where it lands and is refueled. It takes off from Cleveland at 1:38 a.m. and heads for Toronto, Canada.
Hijackers Threaten to Crash the Plane into a Nuclear Facility - While it is on the ground in Toronto, the hijackers learn that Southern Airways has only gathered $500,000 in ransom money. They refuse to take this and release the passengers. Consequently, after being refueled, the plane takes off at 6:15 a.m. and flies back to the US. It heads for Knoxville, Tennessee. As it is ascending, the hijackers tell controllers that unless their demands are met, they will crash Flight 49 into the Oak Ridge nuclear facility, near Knoxville. [Detroit Free Press, 11/12/1972; Graff, 2011, pp. 43-45] Jackson says: “We’re tired of all this bull. No more foolin’ around. We’re taking this f_cker to Oak Ridge and dive it into a nuclear reactor.” [Burleson, 2007, pp. 66] By this time, the White House, the Pentagon, and the Atomic Energy Commission are all involved in dealing with the crisis. [Graff, 2011, pp. 45] Meanwhile, key personnel at Oak Ridge discuss the possible outcomes of Flight 49 crashing into their facility. At the bare minimum, they all agree, the impact could rupture the protective shell and result in a massive release of radioactivity; the worst possibility is a core meltdown. [Burleson, 2007, pp. 66-67]
White House Official Talks to the Hijackers - The plane diverts to Lexington, Kentucky, to be refueled and, by 11:00 a.m., is again over Oak Ridge. The hijackers are then connected to the White House. John Ehrlichman, the president’s top domestic aide, comes on the radio and Jackson tells him, “I’m up over Oak Ridge, where I’ll either throw a grenade or I’ll put this plane down nose first.” He says he and the other hijackers want a letter signed by the president stating that their ransom money is a grant from the government and they won’t be prosecuted. Ehrlichman says it will take some time to fulfil their request.
Hijackers Receive the Ransom Money - The hijackers then direct the plane to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where it lands at 1:30 p.m. It is refueled and the hijackers are given the ransom money, along with food and other supplies. Southern Airways has only been able to put together $2 million, but the airline is assuming—correctly, as it turns out—that the hijackers will lack the time to count the money and realize it is much less than the amount they demanded. The plane leaves Chattanooga at 2:35 p.m. and heads to Cuba, where many hijackers fled during the 1960s and early 1970s.
Authorities Fear the Plane May Be Crashed into the President's Winter Home - As Flight 49 is flying south over Florida, authorities become concerned that the hijackers might crash it into the president’s retreat in Key Biscayne, where Nixon is currently staying. Military officials contact Florida’s Homestead Air Reserve Base and fighter jets there are placed on alert as a precaution. Fortunately, no incident occurs and Flight 49 lands in Havana at 4:49 p.m. However, to the surprise of the hijackers, the Cubans are unhappy about the plane’s arrival and soldiers surround the aircraft after it touches down. José Abrantes, President Fidel Castro’s head of security, explains to the hijackers the nation’s discomfort about the situation. Therefore, after being refueled, Flight 49 leaves Havana and heads back to the US.
FBI Agents Shoot the Plane's Tires - It lands at McCoy Air Force Base in Orlando at 9:17 p.m. By now, Robert Gebhardt, assistant director of the FBI’s investigative division, has given the order to disable the plane when it is next on the ground. Consequently, after it lands, FBI agents start shooting at its tires. The hijackers, realizing what is happening, order Haas to start the plane’s engines. In the panic that follows, Jackson threatens Harold Johnson, the co-pilot, and shoots him in the arm in front of the terrified passengers. The hijackers give the order to take off and, despite now having two flat tires, the plane is able to get off the ground. Jackson then orders Haas to fly to Cuba again. The damaged plane makes an emergency landing in Havana at 12:32 a.m. on November 12. [Detroit Free Press, 11/12/1972; Graff, 2011, pp. 45-52] Cuban soldiers then arrest the hijackers and seize the ransom money, so it can be returned to Southern Airways. [Slate, 6/19/2013]
New Security Measures Will Be Introduced in response to the Hijacking - The catastrophic incident will lead to increased security in the aviation industry. Within two months, mandatory screening of all passengers and carry-on luggage will be introduced. The Justice Department will sign an agreement with the Department of Defense, making military assistance available to the FBI in the event of a terrorist emergency. Other measures will be considered but not introduced, such as armoring cockpit doors, allowing pilots to carry weapons, and centralizing airport security nationwide under a single agency. [Naftali, 2005, pp. 66-67; Graff, 2011, pp. 53] “No one understands the impact that this flight and this 30-hour ordeal had on the nation, and transforming everyone, from the White House to the FBI, to the way that we board an airplane every day,” Brendan Koerner, author of a book about aircraft hijackings, will comment in 2016. [Detroit Free Press, 6/6/2016] As a result of the hijacking of Flight 49, “the American public for the first time began to take the question of terrorism seriously and began to accept trade-offs of civil liberties in exchange for greater security,” journalist and author Garrett Graff will write. [Graff, 2011, pp. 53-54]

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration, José Abrantes, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homestead Air Reserve Base, Harold Johnson, William Haas, Henry Jackson (hijacker), United States Atomic Energy Commission, Lewis Moore, White House, Melvin Cale, John Ehrlichman, US Department of Defense, Southern Airways, Robert Gebhardt

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Comedian Bill Cosby, one of many on Nixon’s enemies list.Comedian Bill Cosby, one of many on Nixon’s enemies list. [Source: Quixoticals]Former White House counsel John Dean, continuing his testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee (see June 25-29, 1973), provides a sheaf of documents to the committee. Among those is the “Opponents List and Political Enemies Project,” informally called President Nixon’s “enemies list.” The list is actually a set of documents “several inches thick” of names and information about Nixon’s political enemies. It was compiled by a number of administration officials, including Dean, White House aides Charles Colson, Gordon Strachan, and Lyn Nofziger, beginning in 1971. One of the documents from August 16, 1971, has Dean suggesting ways in which “we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies.” Methods proposed included administration manipulation of “grant availability, federal contracts, litigation, prosecution, etc.” The Dean memo was given to then-chief of staff H. R. Haldeman and top White House aide John Ehrlichman for approval. Though Dean testifies that he does not know if the plan was set into motion, subsequent documents submitted to the committee indicate that it was indeed implemented. A condensed list of 20 “White House enemies” was produced by Colson’s office; a larger list included ten Democratic senators, all 12 black House members, over 50 news and television reporters, prominent businessmen, labor leaders, and entertainers, and contributors to the 1972 presidential campaign of Democratic senator Edmund Muskie. The condensed list includes, in priority order:
bullet “1. Arnold M. Picker, United Artists Corp., NY. Top Muskie fund raiser. Success here could be both debilitating and very embarrassing to the Muskie machine. If effort looks promising, both Ruth and David Picker should be programmed and then a follow through with United Artists.”
bullet “2. Alexander E. Barkan, national director of AFL-CIO’s committee on Political Education, Washington D.C.: Without a doubt the most powerful political force programmed against us in 1968 ($10 million, 4.6 million votes, 115 million pamphlets, 176,000 workers—all programmed by Barkan’s COPE—so says Teddy White in The Making of the President 1968). We can expect the same effort this time.”
bullet “3. Ed Guthman, managing editor, Los Angeles Times: Guthman, former Kennedy aide, was a highly sophisticated hatchetman against us in ‘68. It is obvious he is the prime mover behind the current Key Biscayne effort. It is time to give him the message.”
bullet “4. Maxwell Dane, Doyle, Dane and Bernbach, NY: The top Democratic advertising firm—they destroyed Goldwater in ‘64. They should be hit hard starting with Dane.”
bullet “5. Charles Dyson, Dyson-Kissner Corp., NY: Dyson and [Democratic National Committee chairman] Larry O’Brien were close business associates after ‘68. Dyson has huge business holdings and is presently deeply involved in the Businessmen’s Educational Fund which bankrolls a national radio network of five-minute programs—anti-Nixon in character.”
bullet “6. Howard Stein, Dreyfus Corp., NY: Heaviest contributor to [Democratic presidential candidate Eugene] McCarthy in ‘68. If McCarthy goes, will do the same in ‘72. If not, Lindsay or McGovern will receive the funds.”
bullet “7. [US Representative] Allard Lowenstein, Long Island, NY: Guiding force behind the 18-year-old ‘Dump Nixon’ vote campaign.”
bullet “8. Morton Halperin, leading executive at Common Cause: A scandal would be most helpful here.”
bullet “9. Leonard Woodcock, UAW, Detroit, Mich.: No comments necessary.”
bullet “10. S. Sterling Munro Jr., Sen. [Henry Jackson’s aide, Silver Spring, Md: We should give him a try. Positive results would stick a pin in Jackson’s white hat.”
bullet “11. Bernard T. Feld, president, Council for a Livable World: Heavy far left funding. They will program an ‘all court press’ against us in ‘72.”
bullet “12. Sidney Davidoff, New York City, [New York City Mayor John V.] Lindsay’s top personal aide: a first class SOB, wheeler-dealer and suspected bagman. Positive results would really shake the Lindsay camp and Lindsay’s plans to capture youth vote. Davidoff in charge.”
bullet “13. John Conyers, congressman, Detroit: Coming on fast. Emerging as a leading black anti-Nixon spokesman. Has known weakness for white females.”
bullet “14. Samuel M. Lambert, president, National Education Association: Has taken us on vis-a-vis federal aid to parochial schools—a ‘72 issue.” [Facts on File, 6/2003] Committee chairman Sam Ervin (D-NC) is clearly outraged by the list, and particularly by Lambert’s inclusion. He says, “Here is a man listed among the opponents whose only offense is that he believed in the First Amendment and shared Thomas Jefferson’s conviction, as expressed in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, that to compel a man to make contributions of money for the dissemination of religious opinions he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical. Isn’t that true?” Dean replies, “I cannot disagree with the chairman at all.” [Time, 7/9/1973]
bullet “15. Stewart Rawlings Mott, Mott Associates, NY: Nothing but big money for radic-lib candidates.”
bullet “16. Ronald Dellums, congressman, Calif: Had extensive [Edward M. Kennedy] EMK-Tunney support in his election bid. Success might help in California next year.”
bullet “17. Daniel Schorr, Columbia Broadcasting System, Washington: A real media enemy.”
bullet “18. S. Harrison Dogole, Philadelphia, Pa: President of Globe Security Systems—fourth largest private detective agency in US. Heavy Humphrey [former presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey] contributor. Could program his agency against us.”
bullet “19. [Actor] Paul Newman, Calif: Radic-lib causes. Heavy McCarthy involvement ‘68. Used effectively in nation wide TV commercials. ‘72 involvement certain.”
bullet “20. Mary McGrory, Washington columnist: Daily hate Nixon articles.”
Another “master list” of political enemies prepared by Colson’s office includes Democratic senators Birch Bayh, J. W. Fulbright, Fred R. Harris, Harold Hughes, Edward M. Kennedy, George McGovern, Walter Mondale, Edmund Muskie, Gaylord Nelson, and William Proxmire; House representatives Bella Abzug, William R. Anderson, John Brademas, Father Robert F. Drinan, Robert Kastenmeier, Wright Patman; African-American representatives Shirley Chisholm, William Clay, George Collins, John Conyers, Ronald Dellums, Charles Diggs, Augustus Hawkins, Ralph Metcalfe, Robert N.C. Nix, Parren Mitchell, Charles Rangel, Louis Stokes; and several other politicians, including Lindsay, McCarthy, and George Wallace, the governor of Alabama (see May 15, 1972). The list also includes an array of liberal, civil rights and antiwar organizations, including the Black Panthers, the Brookings Institution, Common Cause, the Farmers Union, the National Economic Council, the National Education Association, the National Welfare Rights Organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Convention; a variety of labor organizations; many reporters, columnists, and other news figures; a short list of celebrities including Bill Cosby, Jane Fonda, Dick Gregory, Steve McQueen, Joe Namath, Gregory Peck, Tony Randall, and Barbra Streisand; and a huge list of businessmen and academics. The documents provide suggestions for avenues of attack against individual listees, including using “income tax discrepancies,” allegations of Communist connections, and other information. [Facts on File, 6/2003] In 1999, Schorr will joke that being on Nixon’s enemies list “changed my life a great deal. It increased my lecture fee, got me invited to lots of very nice dinners. It was so wonderful that one of my colleagues that I will not mention, but a very important man at CBS, said, ‘Why you, Schorr? Why couldn’t it have been me on the enemies list?’” [CNN, 3/27/1999] Schorr does not mention that he was the subject of an FBI investigation because of his listing. [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007]

Entity Tags: Paul Newman, National Welfare Rights Organization, Ralph Metcalfe, Parren Mitchell, Robert F Drinan, National Economic Council, Richard M. Nixon, Morton H. Halperin, Louis Stokes, Mary McGrory, John V. Lindsay, Lawrence O’Brien, Maxwell Dane, Leonard Woodcock, Robert Kastenmeier, Lyn Nofziger, Los Angeles Times, Robert N.C. Nix, Sam Ervin, S. Harrison Dogole, United Auto Workers, Walter Mondale, Tony Randall, William Clay, William R. Anderson, Wright Patman, William Proxmire, Ron Dellums, Stewart Rawlings Mott, Southern Christian Leadership Convention, S. Sterling Munro Jr, John Ehrlichman, Steve McQueen, Samuel M Lambert, Shirley Chisholm, Sidney Davidoff, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, John Dean, National Education Association, John Brademas, CBS News, Charles Colson, Charles Diggs, Charles Dyson, Charles Rangel, Brookings Institution, Council for a Livable World, Common Cause, Black Panthers, Birch Bayh, Bill Cosby, Allard Lowenstein, Alexander E. Barkan, AFL-CIO, Daniel Schorr, Arnold M. Picker, John Conyers, Augustus Hawkins, Bernard T. Feld, Bella Abzug, Dick Gregory, Barbra Streisand, Edmund Muskie, H.R. Haldeman, Harold Hughes, Gregory Peck, Henry (“Scoop”) Jackson, Jane Fonda, J. William Fulbright, Howard Stein, Gordon Strachan, George S. McGovern, Joe Namath, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Eugene McCarthy, Fred R Harris, Gaylord Nelson, George C. Wallace, Hubert H. Humphrey, George Collins, Ed Guthman

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

A US Airways airliner.A US Airways airliner. [Source: Public domain]A US Airways plane that is flying to the United States from Madrid, Spain, is incorrectly suspected of being hijacked. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; White House, 10/24/2001] It is stated over an FAA teleconference that the White House has reported this suspicious aircraft, which is heading to Philadelphia International Airport, and the military is scrambling fighter jets in response to it. [Federal Aviation Administration, 1/2/2002] NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) was alerted to the plane by US Customs and the FBI, according to a NORAD representative on the Pentagon’s air threat conference call (see 9:37 a.m.-9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). NORAD has been unable to locate the aircraft on radar, according to the NORAD representative. [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001] Accounts conflict over whether the plane is US Airways Flight 930 or Flight 937. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 1/2/2002]
Plane Is Reportedly Transmitting the Hijack Signal - Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, who is in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, will later recall that when those in the PEOC learn of the suspect flight, “we got word that it was only 30 minutes or so outside of US airspace.” According to Libby, the plane’s transponder is transmitting the code for a hijacking: He will say it is reported that the flight has been “showing hijacking through some electronic signal.” [White House, 11/14/2001] However, according to the NORAD representative on the air threat conference call, the plane’s transponder has not been “squawking” the code for a hijacking. “We do not have squawk indication at this point,” he has said.
Plane Is Reportedly Diverted to Pittsburgh - An FAA representative on the air threat conference call apparently says an e-mail has been sent from the suspicious aircraft, stating that the plane is being diverted to Pittsburgh, although the FAA representative’s communications are distorted and therefore unclear. [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001]
President Says Fighters Can Shoot Down the Plane - President Bush discusses the suspicious US Airways flight with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld over the air threat conference call after landing at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001) and Major General Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental United States NORAD Region (CONR), listens in. [Filson, 2003, pp. 87-88] Rumsfeld wants Bush to confirm that fighters are authorized to shoot down the plane if it is considered a threat to a city in the US. “The reason I called… was just to verify that your authorization for the use of force would apply as well in this situation,” he says. Bush replies, “It does, but let us make sure that the fighters and you on the ground get all the facts.” [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001]
Plane Is on the Ground in Spain - After a time, it will be found that the plane is not a threat and is on the ground in Spain. Arnold will be called by Colonel Robert Marr, the battle commander at NEADS, and told, “We just talked to the airline and that aircraft is back on the ground in Madrid.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 88] According to Libby, “It turned out that, I think, it was only 35 minutes out of Spanish airspace, not out of our airspace.” [White House, 11/14/2001] Reggie Settles, the FAA representative at NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center in Colorado, will be informed by US Airways that Flight 937 in fact never existed. However, he will be told, there is a US Airways Flight 911, which “took off from Madrid,” but “has turned back and returned to Madrid,” and “is not en route to the United States.” [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001]
President Decides to Leave Offutt after the Concerns Are Resolved - After he learns that the suspicious plane is back in Spain, Arnold will pick up the hot line and tell Bush: “Mr. President, this is the CONR commander.… No problem with Madrid.” According to Arnold, Bush will reply, “Okay, then I’m getting airborne.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 88] Bush will take off from Offutt aboard Air Force One at around 4:30 p.m. (see (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/12/2001] Numerous aircraft are incorrectly suspected of being hijacked on this day (see (9:09 a.m. and After) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 28; Newhouse News Service, 3/31/2005] The US Airways flight from Madrid is the last of these, according to Arnold. [Code One Magazine, 1/2002]

Entity Tags: Larry Arnold, Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, North American Aerospace Defense Command, US Airways, Robert Marr, Reggie Settles, White House, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Northeast Air Defense Sector, US Customs Service

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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