Kegworth Air Disaster

The Kegworth air disaster occurred on 8 January 1989 when British Midland Flight 92, a Boeing 737-400, crashed onto the embankment of the M1 motorway near Kegworth, Leicestershire, UK. The aircraft was attempting to conduct an emergency landing at East Midlands Airport. Of the 126 people aboard, 47 died and 74, including seven members of the flight crew, sustained serious injuries.


The aircraft was a British Midland operated Boeing 737-400, registration G-OBME, on a scheduled flight from London Heathrow Airport to Belfast International Airport, Northern Ireland, having already flown from Heathrow to Belfast and back that day.


After taking off from Heathrow at 7:52 pm, Flight BD 092 was climbing through 28,300 feet to reach its cruising altitude of 35,000 feet when a blade detached from the fan of the port (left) engine. While the pilots did not know the source of the problem, a pounding noise was suddenly heard, accompanied by severe vibrations. In addition, smoke poured into the cabin through the ventilation system and a burning smell entered the plane. Several passengers sitting near the rear of the plane noticed smoke and sparks coming from the left engine. The flight was diverted to nearby East Midlands Airport at the suggestion of British Midland Airways Operations.

After the initial blade fracture, Captain Kevin Hunt had disengaged the plane's autopilot. When Hunt asked First Officer David McClelland which engine was malfunctioning, McClelland replied: "It's the le... No, the right one". In previous versions of the 737, the left air conditioning pack, fed with compressor bleed air from the left (number 1) engine, supplied air to the flight deck, while the right air conditioning pack, fed from the right (number 2) engine supplied air to the cabin. On the 737-400 this division of air is blurred; the left pack feeds the flight deck but also feeds the aft cabin zone, while the right feeds the forward cabin. The pilots had been used to the older version of the aircraft and did not realise that this aircraft (which had only been flown by British Midland for 520 hours over a two-month period) was different. The smoke in the cabin led them to assume the fault was in the right engine. The pilots throttled back the working right engine instead of the malfunctioning left engine. They had no way of visually checking the engines from the cockpit, and the cabin crew—who did not hear the commander refer to the right hand engine in his cabin address—did not inform them that smoke and flames had been seen from the left engine.

When the pilots completely shut down the right engine, they could no longer smell the smoke, which led them to believe that they had correctly dealt with the problem. As it turned out, this was a coincidence: when the autothrottle was disengaged to shut down the right engine, the fuel flow to the left engine was reduced, and the excess fuel which had been igniting in the jet exhaust disappeared; therefore, the ongoing damage was reduced, the smoke smell ceased, and the vibration reduced, although it would still have been visible on cockpit instruments.

During the final approach to the East Midlands Airport, more fuel was pumped into the damaged engine to maintain speed, which caused it to cease operating entirely and burst into flames. The flight crew attempted to restart the right engine by windmilling, using the air flowing through the engine to rotate the turbine blades and start the engine, but the aircraft was by now flying at 185 km/h, too slow for this. Just before crossing the M1 motorway, the tail struck the ground and the aircraft bounced back into the air and over the motorway, knocking down trees and a lamp post before crashing on the far embankment and breaking into three sections approximately 519yd (1/4-mile or 475 metres) short from the active runway's paved surface and approximately 689yd (1/3-mile or 630 metres) from its threshold. Remarkably, there were no vehicles on that part of the motorway at the moment of the crash.


Of the 118 passengers on board, 39 were killed outright in the crash and eight were fatally injured and died later, for a total of 47 fatalities. All eight members of the crew survived the accident. Of the 79 survivors, 74 suffered serious injuries and five suffered minor injuries. No one on the motorway was injured, and all vehicles in the vicinity of the disaster were undamaged. The first person to arrive at the scene to render aid was a motorist—a former Royal Marine who helped passengers for over three hours—who subsequently received damages for post-traumatic stress disorder.


Shutting down the wrong engine

The Captain, Kevin Hunt, believed the right engine was malfunctioning due to the smell of smoke in the cabin because in previous Boeing 737 variants bleed air for cabin air conditioning was taken from the right engine and also because the right engine fire warning light was flashing. However, starting with the Boeing 737-400 variant, Boeing redesigned the system to use bleed air from both engines. Several cabin staff and passengers noticed that the left engine had a stream of unburnt fuel igniting in the jet exhaust, but this information was not passed to the pilots because cabin staff assumed the pilots were aware that the left engine was malfunctioning.

The smell of smoke disappeared when the autothrottle was disengaged and the right engine shut down due to reduction of fuel to the damaged left engine as it reverted to manual throttle. In the event of a malfunction pilots are trained to check all meters and review all decisions, and Captain Kevin Hunt proceeded to do so. Whilst he was conducting the review, he was interrupted by a transmission from East Midlands Airport informing him he could descend further to 12,000 feet (3,700 m) in preparation for the diverted landing. He did not resume the review after the transmission ended, and instead commenced descent. The vibration indicators were smaller than on the previous versions of the 737 in which the pilots had the majority of their experience.

The dials on the two vibration gauges (one for each engine) were small and the LED needle went around the outside of the dial as opposed to the inside of the dial as in the previous 737 series aircraft. The pilots had received no simulator training on the new model as no simulator for the 737-400 existed in the UK at that time. At the time vibration indicators were known for being unreliable (and normally ignored by pilots) but unknown to the pilots this was one of the first aircraft to have a very accurate vibration readout.

Engine malfunction

Analysis of the engine from the crash determined that the fan blades (LP Stage 1 compressor) of the uprated CFM56 engine used on the 737-400 were subject to abnormal amounts of vibration when operating at high power settings above 25,000 feet (7,600 m). As it was an upgrade to an existing engine, in-flight testing was not mandatory, and the engine had only been tested in the laboratory. Upon this discovery all 99 Boeing 737-400s (since G-OBME had crashed) were grounded and the engines modified. Following the crash, it is now mandatory to test all newly designed and significantly redesigned turbofan engines under representative flight conditions.

This unnoticed vibration created excessive metal fatigue in the fan blades, and on G-OBME this caused one of the fan blades to break off. This damaged the engine terminally and also upset its delicate balance, causing a reduction in power and an increase in vibration. The autothrottle attempted to compensate for this by increasing the fuel flow to the engine. The damaged engine was unable to burn all the additional fuel, with much of it igniting in the exhaust flow, creating a large trail of flame behind the engine.


The official report into the disaster made 31 safety recommendations.
Evaluation of the injuries sustained led to considerable improvements in aircraft safety and emergency instructions for passengers. These were derived from a research programme funded by the CAA and carried out by teams from the University of Nottingham and Hawtal Whiting Structures (a consultancy company). The study between medical staff and engineers used analytical "occupant kinematics" techniques to assess the effectiveness of the brace position. A new notice to operators revising the brace position was issued in October 1993.

There is a memorial to "those who died, those who were injured and those who took part in the rescue operation", in the village cemetery in nearby Kegworth, together with a garden made using soil from the crash site.

Captain Hunt and First Officer McClelland were seriously injured in the crash, and were later dismissed following the criticisms of their actions in the AAIB report. Hunt suffered injuries to his spine and legs in the crash. In April 1991 he told a BBC documentary: "We were the easy option—the cheap option if you wish. We made a mistake—we both made mistakes—but the question we would like answered is why we made those mistakes." BM later paid McClelland an out-of-court settlement for unfair dismissal.

Alan Webb, the Chief Fire Officer at East Midlands Airport, was awarded an MBE in the 1990 New Year Honours list for the co-ordination of his team in the rescue efforts that followed the crash.
Graham Pearson, a man who assisted Kegworth survivors, sued the airline and was awarded £57,000 in damages in 1998.

At the time of the disaster, Kegworth was the location of one of two computer centres owned and operated by National Westminster Bank, housing some of the most powerful IBM mainframe systems in the UK. The location was chosen for its perceived low risk and anonymity. The disaster prompted a huge overhaul of banking IT disaster recovery, ultimately leading to a de-centralization of critical functions during the 1990s.


Brace for impact!

To assume a brace or crash position is an instruction that can be given to prepare for a crash, such as on an aircraft; the instruction to brace for impact is often given if the aircraft must make an emergency landing over land or water.

Types of brace positions

There are many different ways to adopt the brace position, with many countries adopting their own version based on research performed by their own aviation authority or that of other countries. There is commonality among all brace positions despite these variations. For a forward seated passenger wearing only a lap belt, common recommendations for the brace position include:

  • Placing the head on, or as close as possible to, the surface it is most likely to strike. (For example, the bulkhead or seat in front.)
  • Having the passenger lean over to some degree to avoid jackknifing or submarining.
  • Placing the feet flat on the floor.

In the United Kingdom, following the Kegworth air disaster in 1989, the UK Civil Aviation Authority contracted an engineering consultancy, Hawtal Whiting Structures, to perform computer based analytical investigation to optimise the brace for impact position for forward-facing passengers. This was supported by medical information from the University of Nottingham and testing at the Institute of Aviation Medicine.

The brace position as set out to airlines in the UK for passengers in forward-facing seats is based on extensive analytical work arising from Kegworth. It is subtly different from that in the United States and some other countries. Passengers should place their feet and knees together with their feet firmly on the floor (either flat or on the balls of their feet) and tucked behind the knees to prevent shins and legs from being broken against the base of the seat in front. They should bend as far forward as possible, resting their head against the seat in front if it is within reach and place their hands on the back of their head, with the hands one on top of another (rather than interlocked). Their elbows should then be brought in. This prevents both flailing of the arms in the crash sequence and protects the head from flying debris. The head should be as far below the top of the seats as possible to prevent injury from any collapsing overhead compartments.

The brace procedure for the forward-facing seat in the United States is similar to that of the UK, but rather than placing the hands on the back of the head, passengers are advised to place them on the top of the seat in front, one hand holding the other wrist and resting the head in the space between the arms. If the seat in front is not within reach then passengers are advised to either grab their ankles or place their hands under their legs and grab the opposite forearm.

Most experts will say that maximum protection for a forward-facing seat is when the passenger is able to pre-position their head on the surface they are likely to impact (e.g., seat back or bulkhead), as the risk of head trauma is significantly reduced during the crash. Reducing head trauma may also help the passenger stay conscious, which is also essential for rapid evacuation after the crash.

Flight attendant brace positions are somewhat different due to the design of aircraft jumpseats. So far, there has been little research into the best brace position for flight attendants, though airlines have adopted positions that are very similar to one another.

In rear-facing seats, the attendant should be sitting with their back and head firmly against the back of the jumpseat, their knees and feet together and slightly in front of or behind the knee (depending on the individual airlines procedures) - commonly referred to as "toes to tail". In European carriers, the hands can be placed behind the head and hands one on top of the other and the elbows brought in to meet, taking care that the forearm does not cover the ear and restrict hearing. This position provides the flight attendant protection to the face from any flying debris (as it will impact their elbows) yet still provides them with the ability to view the cabin and not muffle their commands. In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) does not recommend placing the hands behind the neck as their research suggests such actions can cause unnecessary loading on the neck and spine during an impact. Instead, US flight attendants are typically taught to sit on their hands, palms facing the ceiling, underneath their upper legs. Other variations include clasping the hands on the knees or using one arm to "hug" the opposing arm.

For forward-facing jumpseats, the position is exactly the same but with the feet behind the knees, with some airlines requiring flight attendants to tuck their chin in to their chest ("bow to the captain") to reduce the likelihood of whiplash injuries.

There is also a third brace position for flight attendants, and that is the "normal" brace position. This is adopted by the attendant for every take off and landing and provides them with protection from any sudden emergencies and allows them to adopt the full brace position quickly should they need to. The only difference between the normal brace and the full brace position is that the attendants will either fold their arms across their stomach or immobilize them by placing their hands under their thighs with the palms up. This position forms part of every flight attendant's "sixty second review" - a technique being adopted by airlines whereby the attendant will go over various factors in their head during the take-off and landing sequence. Things such as "how do I open my door?", "where is the next nearest exit?", "am I over land or water?" and "what commands will I shout" are just a few of the questions an attendant will ask themselves. The belief is that this mental review focuses the attendant on the safety-critical role they have during take-off and landing and will result in faster decision making and adaptation to the scenario.

Newer brace positions are being adopted by many U.S. airlines in which the flight attendants do not sit on their hands. Instead, they place their hands flat on top of their thighs. This new position is being adopted because in the event of a crash, sitting on hands can cause injury and/or crushing.


If carrying an infant on a lap, it is generally recommended that above positions should be adopted as best as possible, cradling the child with one arm and using this to also protect the child's head. In the UK, lap children are instructed to wear an infant safety belt which is a separate seat belt with a loop that connects to the parent's belt; however, in the United States such belts are not permitted by FAA regulations. The FAA believes that such baby belts significantly increases the risk of injury to the child. In the early era of commercial aviation, the recommended brace position for children was on the floor against a bulkhead; this has since been amended due to the position's lack of protection. The safest position for an infant is in an aviation certified child safety seat.


There have been myths surrounding the use of the brace procedure, namely that adopting the brace procedure is only useful for preserving dental integrity for identification after a crash. Another myth is that the position is designed to increase the chance of death to reduce insurance-paid medical cost. Instances where the brace procedure has been adopted have been shown to save lives. In one accident, passengers were asleep on an aircraft that was about to collide with trees. One passenger, out of the sixteen, awoke and adopted the procedure, and he was the only survivor. All passengers aboard Scandinavian Airlines Flight 751, which crashed, survived: an outcome which it has been suggested was largely thanks to the passengers' universal adoption of the brace position.

During the "Miracle on the Hudson" flight on January 15, 2009, there were fewer than three minutes to land U.S. Airways Flight 1549 into the Hudson River and the only words the passengers heard from the pilot were "Brace for Impact". Flight attendants chanted, "Brace! Brace! Heads down! Stay down!" and all 155 people on board survived with no life-threatening injuries.

Safety cards

Many government aviation administrations or regulatory bodies mandate the depiction of how to adopt the brace position on aircraft safety cards and in-flight safety demonstrations, such as a 1993 ruling by the United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority (issued in a Notice to Air Operator Certificate Holders 1993) or, for example, in CAO 020.11 (section 14.1.3), issued by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority of Australia.

The depiction of how to adopt the brace position is not a basic standard set forth by the International Civil Aviation Organization. While many regulatory bodies have adopted this addition on their own (as noted above), the FAA has not required it on flights to, from, or within the United States.

Planned or unplanned crash landings

In an unexpected emergency on a passenger aircraft where an impact may be possible, cabin crew are trained to recognize such situations (e.g., flight attendants sense that the take-off is not going as usual) and shout commands to passengers, such as "Bend over! Stay down!", "Brace for impact! Prepare for Crash- Landing,Prepare for Crash- Landing! Heads down! Stay down!" or "Brace! Brace!" In a developing emergency, the cabin crew can first give a briefing to passengers on how to properly adopt the brace position. Before the emergency landing, the flight deck usually gives a pre-arranged signal (such as the command, "Brace for impact." over the public announcement system or flashing the fasten seat-belt sign several times), whereupon the cabin crew will shout commands to passengers to adopt the brace position, such as "Brace, Brace! Stay down!" or "Get your heads down, stay down!", Which the cabin crew is required to chant repeatedly in a loud voice until the aircraft comes to a complete stop or they receive an "evacuate" command. Every airline has their own command when commanding passengers to take the brace position.


In the 1989 Boeing 737-400 Kegworth air disaster crash, the pilot was able to announce "Prepare for crash landing" 10 seconds before impact; the resulting injuries—from both those who did and did not adopt the brace position—would later be studied to provide further research on this topic. A CAA-funded engineering–medical joint research team was established, led by Nigel Rock of Hawtal Whiting (HW) Engineering Consultants and Prof Angus Wallace of the Nottingham University Hospital. The team was aided by Wg Cdr David Anton of the Royal Air Force Institute of Aviation Medicine. The work used mathematical modelling derived from the automobile industry to analyse the human body under crash conditions. (See "Further reading" below.)


Smooth Operation

KLM Operational Control Centre - the heart of KLM..

..and how it goes with a pretty young but highly motivated crew at Air Baltic:

[Showroom] The Rolling Stones' 14-On-Fire tour-jet

For their 2014 world tour '14 On Fire' The Rolling Stones chartered this...
28 year-old B767-200ER (Reg.: ZS-DJI, 23624 LN: 144)...
from Aeronexus based in South Africa currently operating only this aircraft.

[In Footsteps Of Regs] 'The Starship'

N7201U in original United Airlines livery
The Starship was a former United Airlines Boeing 720 passenger jet, bought by Bobby Sherman and his manager, Ward Sylvester, and leased to touring musical artists in the mid-1970s.

The Starship, N7201U (S/N: 17907), was the first Boeing 720 built. It was delivered to United Airlines on October 1960 and then purchased in 1973 by Contemporary Entertainment.

N7201U as 'Starship'
English rock band Led Zeppelin used the aircraft for their 1973 and 1975 North American concert tours. During the 1972 tour and in the early part of the 1973 tour the band had hired a small private Falcon Jet to transport its members from city to city, but these aircraft are comparatively light and susceptible to turbulence. After performing a show at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco in 1973 Led Zeppelin encountered bad turbulence on a flight back to Los Angeles. As a result, the band's manager Peter Grant resolved to hire The Starship for the remainder of the tour, at a cost of $30,000 ($2,500 a day or $5 a mile).

Highly modified cabin interior for star amenities
The aircraft was the same type as used by commercial airlines, but its owners allowed it to be specifically modified to suit the whim of their clients. Purchased from the airline by Contemporary Entertainment for $750,000, owner Ward Sylvester invested almost $200,000 to reduce its seating capacity to forty and to install into the main cabin a bar, seats and tables, revolving arm chairs, a 30-foot-long (9.1 m) couch (running along the right hand side of the plane, opposite the bar), a television set and a video cassette player, complete with a well-stocked video library. An electronic organ was built into the bar, and at the rear of the craft were two back rooms, one with a low couch and pillows on the floor, and the other, a bedroom, complete with a white fur bedspread and shower room which was also popular with the band members.

“They painted their name across the fuselage, snorted cocaine with rolled-up hundreds and treated the master suite like a pay-by-the-hour motel,” wrote Steve Kurutz in 2003 NY Times article, “Jimmy Page, used the Starship as a personal hideaway, retreating into the master bedroom — with its queen-size waterbed, fake fur bedspread and shower — to deepen his heroin habit and hide his teenage girlfriend, Lori Maddox. 

Flying on The Starship, Led Zeppelin were no longer required to change hotels so often. They could base themselves in large cities such as Chicago, New York, Dallas and Los Angeles and travel to and from concerts within flying distance. After each show, the band members would be transported direct by limousine from the concert venue to the airport, as depicted in the Led Zeppelin concert film The Song Remains the Same.

N7201U 'Starship' with American-flag paint scheme
The Starship was used throughout Led Zeppelin's 1975 US concert tour, this time featuring a different red-and-blue paint scheme with white stars similar to the United States flag, and with a smaller "Led Zeppelin" logo on the fuselage. According to Peter Grant, at one point during this tour Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham sat in the co-pilot's seat and assisted in flying the plane all the way from New York to Los Angeles [it's rumored that he did not have a pilot license - the editor].

 The exterior of the plane was re-sprayed with Led Zeppelin emblazoned down the side of the fuselage. The Starship is included at the end of "Stairway to Heaven" on disc 2 of the Led Zeppelin DVD with both its 1973 and 1975 paint schemes.

English rock band Deep Purple hired The Starship for their 1974 U.S. Tour. They can be seen arriving in the jet with the band's name emblazoned on the jet in the DVD for the infamous California Jam rock festival, entitled Live in California 74. In an interview with Circus magazine in 1974, Deep Purple's Jon Lord explained: "It's a 707 put together by a firm in L.A. that Sinatra, Dylan and The Band just used and Elton John uses. It has a lounge, a bedroom, a shower and a study. It's supposed to look as little as a plane as possible."

In 1975, the Rolling Stones leased the Starship for their tour. “For the Stones, there was an added bonus: (...) it solved the longstanding problem of Keith Richards’s tardiness. The often comatose guitarist could now be propped up, wheeled onto the tarmac and tossed aboard the plane, where Suzee would be waiting with his favored drink, a Tequila Sunrise.” – Steve Kurutz, NY Times. 

The Allman Brothers and Alice Cooper were also Starship clients. Peter Frampton was the last to charter The Starship in 1976. As early as Alice Cooper's 1974 tour the aircraft was beginning to show signs of engine difficulties, and for Led Zeppelin's 1977 US Tour, it was permanently grounded at Long Beach Airport. The band was forced to find a comparable alternative, and tour manager Richard Cole eventually chartered Caesar's Chariot, a 45-seat Boeing 707 owned by the Caesars Palace Hotel in Las Vegas.

N7201U in 1978
The aircraft had a very short run as chauffeur to the stars between 1973 to 1976. It’s client list also included the likes of John Lennon, the Bee Gees and Olivia Newton John. During the oil embargo, the plane went through many owners and eventually ended up in the UK’s Luton Airport storage hull. It was eventually sold to a Middle Eastern buyer who dismantled it for parts in 1982.


D. B. Cooper - the only unsolved air-piracy in America

Passengers embarking via an air-stair of a Lufthansa B727
D. B. Cooper is a media epithet popularly used to refer to an unidentified man who hijacked a Boeing 727 aircraft in the airspace between Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington, on November 24, 1971, extorted $200,000 in ransom (equivalent to $1,160,000 in 2014), and parachuted to an uncertain fate. Despite an extensive manhunt and an ongoing FBI investigation, the perpetrator has never been located or positively identified. The case remains the only unsolved air piracy in American aviation history.

The suspect purchased his airline ticket using the alias Dan Cooper, but due to a news media miscommunication he became known in popular lore as "D. B. Cooper". Hundreds of leads have been pursued in the ensuing years, but no conclusive evidence has ever surfaced regarding Cooper's true identity or whereabouts. Numerous theories of widely varying plausibility have been proposed by experts, reporters, and amateur enthusiasts. The discovery of a small cache of ransom bills in 1980 triggered renewed interest but ultimately only deepened the mystery, and the great majority of the ransom remains unrecovered.

While FBI investigators have stated from the beginning that Cooper probably did not survive his risky jump, the agency maintains an active case file - which has grown to more than 60 volumes - and continues to solicit creative ideas and new leads from the public. "Maybe a hydrologist can use the latest technology to trace the $5,800 in ransom money found in 1980 to where Cooper landed upstream," suggested Special Agent Larry Carr, leader of the investigation team since 2006. "Or maybe someone just remembers that odd uncle."


The incident began mid-afternoon on Thanksgiving eve, November 24, 1971, at Portland International Airport in Portland, Oregon. A man carrying a black attaché case approached the flight counter of Northwest Orient Airlines. He identified himself as "Dan Cooper" and purchased a one-way ticket on Flight 305, a 30-minute trip to Seattle, Washington.

FBI's wanted poster of Cooper
Cooper boarded the aircraft, a Boeing 727-100 (FAA registration N467US), and took seat 18C (18E by one account, 15D by another) in the rear of the passenger cabin. He lit a cigarette and ordered a bourbon and soda. Eyewitnesses on board recalled a man in his mid-forties, between 5 feet 10 inches (1.78 m) and 6 feet 0 inches (1.83 m) tall. He wore a black lightweight raincoat, loafers, a dark suit, a neatly pressed white collared shirt, a black necktie, and a mother of pearl tie pin.

Flight 305, approximately one-third full, took off on schedule at 2:50 pm, local time (PST). Cooper passed a note to Florence Schaffner, the flight attendant situated nearest to him in a jumpseat attached to the aft stair door. Schaffner, assuming the note contained a lonely businessman's phone number, dropped it unopened into her purse. Cooper leaned toward her and whispered, "Miss, you'd better look at that note. I have a bomb."

The note was printed in neat, all-capital letters with a felt pen. It read, approximately, "I have a bomb in my briefcase. I will use it if necessary. I want you to sit next to me. You are being hijacked." Schaffner did as requested, then quietly asked to see the bomb. Cooper cracked open his briefcase long enough for her to glimpse eight red cylinders ("four on top of four") attached to wires coated with red insulation, and a large cylindrical battery. After closing the briefcase, he dictated his demands: $200,000 in "negotiable American currency"; four parachutes (two primary and two reserve); and a fuel truck standing by in Seattle to refuel the aircraft upon arrival. Schaffner conveyed Cooper's instructions to the cockpit; when she returned, he was wearing dark sunglasses.

Cpt. Scott, F/O Rataczak, F/A Mucklow and S/O Anderson
The pilot, William Scott, contacted Seattle-Tacoma Airport air traffic control, which in turn informed local and federal authorities. The 36 other passengers were informed that their arrival in Seattle would be delayed because of a "minor mechanical difficulty". Northwest Orient's president, Donald Nyrop, authorized payment of the ransom and ordered all employees to cooperate fully with the hijacker. The aircraft circled Puget Sound for approximately two hours to allow Seattle police and the FBI time to assemble Cooper's parachutes and ransom money, and to mobilize emergency personnel.

Schaffner recalled that Cooper appeared familiar with the local terrain; at one point he remarked, "Looks like Tacoma down there," as the aircraft flew above it. He also mentioned, correctly, that McChord Air Force Base was only a 20-minute drive from Seattle-Tacoma Airport. Schaffner described him as calm, polite, and well-spoken, not at all consistent with the stereotypes (enraged, hardened criminals or "take-me-to-Cuba" political dissidents) popularly associated with air piracy at the time. Tina Mucklow, another flight attendant, agreed. "He wasn't nervous," she told investigators. "He seemed rather nice. He was never cruel or nasty. He was thoughtful and calm all the time." He ordered a second bourbon and water, paid his drink tab (and insisted Schaffner keep the change), and offered to request meals for the flight crew during the stop in Seattle.

FBI agents assembled the ransom money from several Seattle-area banks - 10,000 unmarked 20-dollar bills, many with serial numbers beginning with the letter "L" indicating issuance by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, most carrying a "Series 1969-C" designation - and made a microfilm photograph of each of them. Cooper rejected the military-issue parachutes initially offered by authorities, demanding instead civilian parachutes with manually operated ripcords. Seattle police obtained them from a local skydiving school.

Passengers released

N467US during refuelling at Seattle-Tacoma Airport
At 5:24 pm Cooper was informed that his demands had been met, and at 5:39 pm the aircraft landed at Seattle-Tacoma Airport. Cooper instructed Scott to taxi the jet to an isolated, brightly lit section of the tarmac and extinguish lights in the cabin to deter police snipers. Northwest Orient's Seattle operations manager, Al Lee, approached the aircraft in street clothes (to avoid the possibility that Cooper might mistake his airline uniform for that of a police officer) and delivered the cash-filled knapsack and parachutes to Mucklow via the aft stairs. Once the delivery was completed Cooper permitted all passengers, Schaffner, and senior flight attendant Alice Hancock to leave the plane.

During refueling Cooper outlined his flight plan to the cockpit crew: a southeast course toward Mexico City at the minimum airspeed possible without stalling the aircraft (approximately 100 knots (190 km/h; 120 mph)) at a maximum 10,000 foot (3,000 m) altitude. He further specified that the landing gear remain deployed in the takeoff/landing position, the wing flaps be lowered 15 degrees, and the cabin remain unpressurized. Copilot William Rataczak informed Cooper that the aircraft's range was limited to approximately 1,000 miles (1,600 km) under the specified flight configuration, which meant that a second refueling would be necessary before entering Mexico. Cooper and the crew discussed options and agreed on Reno, Nevada, as the refueling stop. Finally, Cooper directed that the plane take off with the rear exit door open and its staircase extended. Northwest's home office objected, on grounds that it was unsafe to take off with the aft staircase deployed. Cooper countered that it was indeed safe, but he would not argue the point; he would lower it himself once they were airborne.

An FAA official requested a face-to-face meeting with Cooper aboard the aircraft, which was denied. The refueling process was delayed due to a vapor lock in the fuel tanker truck's pumping mechanism, and Cooper became suspicious; but he allowed a replacement tanker truck to continue the refueling - and a third after the second ran dry.

Back in the air

At approximately 7:40 pm the 727 took off with only Cooper, pilot Scott, flight attendant Mucklow, copilot Rataczak, and flight engineer H. E. Anderson aboard. Two F-106 fighter aircraft scrambled from nearby McChord Air Force Base followed behind the airliner, one above it and one below, out of Cooper's view. A Lockheed T-33 trainer, diverted from an unrelated Air National Guard mission, also shadowed the 727 until it ran low on fuel and turned back near the Oregon-California border.

After takeoff Cooper told Mucklow to join the rest of the crew in the cockpit and remain there with the door closed. As she complied, Mucklow observed Cooper tying something around his waist. At approximately 8:00 pm a warning light flashed in the cockpit, indicating that the aft airstair apparatus had been activated. The crew's offer of assistance via the aircraft's intercom system was curtly refused. The crew soon noticed a subjective change of air pressure, indicating that the aft door was open.

Animation showing how Cooper could have left the B727
At approximately 8:13 pm the aircraft's tail section sustained a sudden upward movement, significant enough to require trimming to bring the plane back to level flight. At approximately 10:15 pm Scott and Rataczak landed the 727, with the aft airstair still deployed, at Reno Airport. FBI agents, state troopers, sheriff's deputies, and Reno police surrounded the jet, as it had not yet been determined with certainty that Cooper was no longer aboard; but an armed search quickly confirmed that he was gone.

Theories and conjectures

Operation manual of a B727 air-stair
The FBI task force believes that Cooper was a careful and shrewd planner. He demanded four parachutes to force the assumption that he might compel one or more hostages to jump with him, thus ensuring he would not be deliberately supplied with sabotaged equipment. He chose a 727-100 aircraft because it was ideal for a bail-out escape, due not only to its aft airstair, but also the high, aftward placement of all three engines, which allowed a reasonably safe jump without risk of immediate incineration by jet exhaust. It had "single-point fueling" capability, a recent innovation which allowed all tanks to be refueled rapidly through a single fuel port. It also had the ability (unusual for a commercial jet airliner) to remain in slow, low-altitude flight without stalling; and Cooper knew how to control its air speed and altitude without entering the cockpit, where he could have been overpowered by the three pilots. In addition, Cooper was familiar with important details, such as the appropriate flap setting of 15 degrees (which was unique to that aircraft), and the typical refueling time. He knew that the aft airstair could be lowered during flight - a fact never disclosed to civilian flight crews, since there was no situation on a passenger flight that would make it necessary - and that its operation, by a single switch in the rear of the cabin, could not be overridden from the cockpit. He may even have known that the Central Intelligence Agency had been using 727s to drop agents and supplies behind enemy lines during the Vietnam War.

Assuming that Cooper was not a paratrooper, but was an Air Force veteran, Carr believes that he could have been an aircraft cargo loader. Such an assignment would have given him knowledge and experience in the aviation industry; and loaders - because they throw cargo out of flying aircraft - wear emergency parachutes and receive rudimentary jump training. Such training would have given Cooper a working knowledge of parachutes - but "not necessarily sufficient knowledge to survive the jump he made."

Airport security

The Cooper hijacking marked the beginning of the end for unfettered and unscrutinized airline travel. Despite initiation of the federal Sky Marshal program the previous year, 31 hijackings were committed in U.S. airspace in 1972, 19 of them for the specific purpose of extorting money. (Most of the rest were attempts to reach Cuba.) In 15 of the extortion cases the hijackers also demanded parachutes. In early 1973 the FAA began requiring airlines to search all passengers and their bags. Amid multiple lawsuits charging that such searches violated Fourth Amendment protections against search and seizure, federal courts ruled that they were acceptable when applied universally, and when limited to searches for weapons and explosives. In contrast to the 31 hijackings in 1972, only two were attempted in 1973, both by psychiatric patients, one of whom intended to crash the airliner into the White House to kill President Nixon.

Aircraft modifications

Cooper vane
A Cooper vane (also sometimes called a "Dan Cooper switch" or "D.B. Cooper device") is a mechanical aerodynamic wedge that prevents the ventral airstair of an aircraft being lowered in flight. Following three hijackings in 1972, the Federal Aviation Administration ordered that Boeing 727 aircraft be fitted with Cooper vanes.The Cooper vane is a very simple device consisting of a spring-loaded paddle connected to a plate. When the aircraft is on the ramp, the spring keeps the paddle perpendicular to the fuselage, and the attached plate does not block the stairway. As the aircraft takes off, the airflow pushes the paddle parallel to the fuselage and the plate is moved underneath the stairway, preventing it being lowered. Once the airflow decreases on landing, the spring-loaded paddle returns to its initial position, thereby allowing the stairs to be lowered again. Although this device was intended to prevent hijackings aboard the 727 and other aircraft with a ventral airstair, many airlines sealed the airstair entirely, never to use it again.

A less-well-known modification mandated as a direct result of the hijacking was the installation of peepholes in all cockpit doors, making it possible for the cockpit crew to observe events in the passenger cabin with the cockpit door closed.

Subsequent history of N467US

In 1978 the hijacked 727-100 aircraft was sold by Northwest to Piedmont Airlines where it was reregistered N838N and continued in domestic carrier service. In 1984 it was purchased by the now-defunct charter company Key Airlines, reregistered N29KA, and incorporated into the Air Force's civilian charter fleet that shuttled workers between Nellis Air Force Base and the Tonopah Test Range during the top-secret F-117 Nighthawk development program. In 1996 the aircraft was scrapped for parts in a Memphis boneyard.


Wheel-well stowaways

Armando hospitalized
Disillusioned with the oppression of the Cuban regime, friends Armando Socarras and Jorge Perez Blanco felt their only way to freedom was to stowaway in the wheel well of a DC-8 jet bound for Madrid. The boys planned their departure for weeks and on June 3, 1969, executed their plan. They wore rubber-soled shoes to aid them in crawling up the wheels of the jet and carried ropes to secure themselves inside the wheel well. After the plane took off, Armando was almost crushed by the wheels as they folded into the compartment where he was hiding. With temperatures at -41 degrees Fahrenheit and the oxygen thinning, he drifted in and out of consciousness, unsure about what had happened to his friend. When the plane landed in Madrid, Armando plopped out onto the tarmac. His clothes were frozen and his temperature was so low that it didn't register on the thermometer, but he was alive. And free. Jorge didn't fare as well – he was believed to have been knocked down by the jet blast and imprisoned in Cuba or may have fallen to his death.

A similar tragic case in 1970
In October 1996, a couple in pub garden spotted a body falling from a DC-9 as it approached London's Heathrow airport. 19-year-old stowaway Vijay Saini was already dead when he fell 2000 feet. His brother, Pardeep, somehow survived the 10-hour journey from Delhi to London in temperatures of minus 60 degrees Celsius and winds six times stronger than a hurricane as the British Airways jet cruised at 35,000 feet. Pardeep told authorities he and his brother were forced to leave after being linked to Sikh militants and found a man in Delhi who said he would help them – for a price. The man convinced them they could access the baggage hold from the wheel well of a plane and fly safely. Once inside, they realized that was impossible, but the plane had already started to move. Moments after take-off, the screaming, terrified brothers were pinned opposite corners of the wheel house. Pardeep passed out and didn't come to until the plane reached Heathrow. In that time, Vijay likely began to hallucinate from lack of oxygen as his body temperature dipped to fatal levels. When the captain opened the landing gear doors, Vijay simply fell from the sky. Pardeep woke up and staggered onto the tarmac barely able to speak. He was rushed to the hospital with severe hypothermia. The pilot, Captain Post, later wrote to Pardeep and congratulated him on his "near-miraculous survival." He said, "I hope that in the future I may have the pleasure of carrying you as a legitimate passenger on the INSIDE of the airplane."

Not much is known about Tahitian stowaway Fidel Maruhi, a man who survived a 4000-mile, 7½-hour journey from Papeete to Los Angeles in the wheel well of an Air France Jet in 2000. When Maruhi was discovered on a refueling stopover in Los Angeles, his body temperature was at 79 degrees, six degrees colder than what's considered fatal. Maruhi, who initially took the trip to meet his favorite footballer Zinedine Zidane, was sent back to Tahiti and remembers nothing of the journey, having blacked out just after takeoff.

While the exact details of what caused him to flee his native country are unknown, Victor Alvarez Molina tucked himself inside the landing gear of an airplane leaving Havana for Montreal after his wife called him at work warning him of trouble in 2002. Molina was ill-prepared against the freezing temperatures that reached minus 55 degrees Fahrenheit as the plane reached cruising altitude. For four hours, he clutched a photo of his daughter and prayed. Soon deprived of oxygen and becoming hypothermic, his saving grace was a broken compartment pipe which seeped out warm air and provided a convenient lifeline when the landing gear deployed. Once on the ground, Molina was treated for hypothermia and granted refugee status by the Canadian government.

How the stowaway made it to the UK
In 2010 a stowaway hid in the undercarriage of a jumbo jet and survived temperatures of -41 Celsius at 25,000ft during a free flight into Britain. The jobless Romanian crouched in the rear-wheel compartment during an extraordinary 800-mile trip from Vienna to London on a Boeing 747 owned by the Dubai royal family. When the privately owned Boeing landed at Heathrow, the 20-year-old stowaway tumbled on to the runway and was arrested by security staff. He said he had come to Britain to find work, was examined by paramedics but incredibly suffered only a few bruises and was fit enough to be interviewed by police and immigration officials.
Less than 24 hours later, he was released after accepting a police caution for being a stowaway and - because he is an EU national and proved his identity - was allowed to stay in Britain. A police source said: 'The plane would normally have flown at 37,000ft which would have killed him but it was flying lower because of thunder-storms. 'This, and the fact it was a short-haul flight, meant he survived. He's had a free flight and been released for his troubles. Welcome to England.'
The Romanian reportedly slipped under a perimeter fence at Vienna Airport on Sunday evening and made his way to a private jet owned by the Dubai royal family. He told police he climbed into the wheel compartment of the plane, which took off at about 7pm UK time. One hour and 37minutes later, it landed at Heathrow. Sources said the man fell or jumped soon after the aircraft touched down and was arrested at 8.48pm for stowing away on an aircraft, contrary to Article 143 of the Air Navigation Order 2009, which carries a maximum sentence of a £2,500 fine. He was taken to Heathrow police station but because he was apparently of previous good character, he was given a police caution and released from custody. The man was carrying ID and immigration officials were satisfied he was Romanian and entitled to stay. Home Office sources confirmed there were no immigration issues and that the UK Border Agency was not seeking to deport him.
The Sheikh who owns the plane has reportedly threatened legal action against Vienna airport officials. Vienna airport spokesman Peter Kleemann said: 'This is the first time we have ever had a case like this.' He said the man said 'he had had enough of Vienna and wanted to go somewhere else where he might find work'.
Vienna police spokesman Leo Lauber added: 'We are investigating, this is a high security area, we don't know how this could have happened. He claims he just climbed under the fence and then found a place on board the first aircraft he saw.' Mr Lauber admitted the ten miles of fencing around the airport perimeter are not constantly patrolled. The Austrian interior ministry begun an inquiry into the security breach. But a spokesman added that individual airlines should be responsible for their own security.

Daniel Ihekina during a radio report
In 2013, teenager Daniel Ihekina evaded security at Benin City Airport in Nigeria and hid in the undercarriage of an airplane on a flight to Lagos. It is believed he survived due to the short length of the flight which meant the plane's maximum altitude only reached 21,000 feet. Upon arrival in Lagos, passengers alerted crew when they saw the young stowaway emerging from the wheel cavity. According to officials, Daniel risked life and limb to escape mistreatment by his parents and thought the plane was headed to America. He was disappointed to find that the plane had never left Nigeria. In a lucky twist a fate, the Edo State Government has offered Daniel a scholarship to one of the top schools in the state. Governor Adams Oshiomole said, "We decided to support him by sending him to one of the top secondary schools in Edo State. The reason for opting for a boarding school is that we think that there is a need to closely watch him which his parents could not do. He is an intelligent young man with uncommon challenges, but one that has a vision."

Yahia Abdi
This year 15-year-old runaway Yahya Abdi miraculously survived a five-hour flight in the freezing wheel well of a Hawaiian Airlines jet as it travelled from California to Hawaii. The stowaway snuck into the Mineta International Airport in San Jose by jumping a fence and holed up in rear left wheel well of the Boeing 767 in an attempt to reunite with his mother. He had recently learned she was alive after his father told him she was dead. Abdi quickly lost consciousness as the plane ascended to 38,000 feet and temperatures in the compartment dipped to minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit. An hour after the plane landed, the boy regained consciousness and emerged on the tarmac. He was spotted by a shocked ground crew. Abdi was questioned by the FBI and his story checked out. He was turned over to local child protection officials, given a medical exam and appears to be unharmed.

As of January 2014, there were 103 wheel-well stowaway attempts on 92 flights recorded by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration since 1947, 23.3% of which were successful.

Fode Tounkara & Yaguine Koïta
Yaguine Koïta and Fodé Tounkara were stowaways who froze to death on a Sabena Airlines Airbus A330 (Flight 520) flying from Conakry, Guinea, to Brussels, Belgium, on July 28, 1999. Their bodies were discovered on August 2 in the airplane's rear right-hand wheel bay at Brussels International Airport, after having made at least three return trips between Conakry and Brussels. The boys were carrying plastic bags with birth certificates, school report cards, family photographs and a letter. This letter, written in imperfect French, was widely published in the world media. Their story was made into a film Early in the Morning (French: Un matin bonne heure) in 2006.

Excellencies, Messrs. members and officials of Europe,

We have the honorable pleasure and the great confidence in you to write this letter to speak to you about the objective of our journey and the suffering of us, the children and young people of Africa.

But first of all, we present to you life's most delicious, charming and respected greetings. To this effect, be our support and our assistance. You are for us, in Africa, those to whom it is necessary to request relief. We implore you, for the love of your continent, for the feeling that you have towards your people and especially for the affinity and love that you have for your children whom you love for a lifetime. Furthermore, for the love and meekness of our creator God the omnipotent one who gave you all the good experiences, wealth and ability to well construct and well organize your continent to become the most beautiful one and most admirable among the others.

Messrs. members and officials of Europe, we call out for your solidarity and your kindness for the relief of Africa. Do help us, we suffer enormously in Africa, we have problems and some shortcomings regarding the rights of the child.

In terms of problems, we have war, disease, malnutrition, etc. As for the rights of the child in Africa, and especially in Guinea, we have too many schools but a great lack of education and training. Only in the private schools can one have a good education and good training, but it takes a great sum of money. Now, our parents are poor and it is necessary for them to feed us. Furthermore, we have no sports schools where we could practice soccer, basketball or tennis.

This is the reason, we, African children and youth, ask you to create a big efficient organization for Africa to allow us to progress.

Therefore, if you see that we have sacrificed ourselves and risked our lives, this is because we suffer too much in Africa and that we need you to fight against poverty and to put an end to the war in Africa. Nevertheless, we want to learn, and we ask you to help us in Africa learn to be like you.

Finally, we appeal to you to excuse us very, very much for daring to write this letter to you, the great personages to whom we owe much respect. And do not forget it is to you whom we must lament about the weakness of our abilities in Africa.

Written by two Guinean children, Yaguine Koita and Fodé Tounkara.


The weirdest stowaways

  • Jul 24th 2012, Manchester

    A Boeing 737-300, registration G-CELG performing flight LS-791 from Manchester, EN (UK) to Rome Fiumicino (Italy), departed with an 11 year old boy in the passenger cabin, who had run away from home and was making his way to Rome without boarding pass, passport or other papers. Other passengers realised in flight that the boy was travelling alone and informed cabin crew. In consultation of flight crew with dispatch it was discovered the boy was travelling as stowaway. The aircraft continued to Rome for a safe landing, the boy was kept aboard while all other passengers disembarked.

    The boy was returned to Manchester on board of the aircraft, that departed Rome as flight LS-792 with a delay of 2 hours as result of the boy's adventure and reached Manchester with a delay of 80 minutes, where the boy was handed back to his family.

    Police confirmed the boy had separated from his mother while she was shopping and went to the airport to take his way to Rome, while his mother started a search for him. After the crew called dispatch, police was able to identify his whereabouts and inform his mother and after the aircraft's return reunite the family.

    The airline confirmed the boy was travelling aboard their aircraft without proper papers after passing five security checks, where the lack of boarding pass and lack of travel documents went unnoticed. The relevant staff has been suspended pending investigation results.

  • Oct 22nd 2012, San Francisco

    A China Airlines Boeing 747-400, registration B-18210 performing flight CI-4 (dep Oct 21st) from Taipei (Taiwan) to San Francisco,CA (USA), had completed a seemingly uneventful flight.

    Airport Authorities at San Francisco however discovered a passenger was arriving with a forged passport. Further investigation revealed the passenger had no ticket and was travelling from China via Taiwan to San Francisco, having come on board of the aircraft in Shanghai disguised as cleaning personnel before the aircraft departed for flight CI-504 from Shanghai's Pudong Airport (China) to Taipei. The man had been hiding on board of the aircraft in an electrical compartment inside the pressurized cabin all the way from Shanghai to San Francisco and thus had escaped detection by cleaning personnel, cabin crew and security personnel on all three airports.

  • Dec 25th 2009, Madinah

    An Air India Airbus A330-200, hajj flight from Madinah (Saudi Arabia) to Jaipur (India) with 273 pilgrims, was about 45 minutes into the flight, when a stowaway was discovered in the aircraft cabin. The crew decided, he was not a threat to the safety of the flight and continued to Jaipur for a safe landing, where the stoaway was handed to airport security personnel. Police was informed several hours later early Saturday morning (Dec 26th).

    The circumstances of the discovery are not clear. The passengers reported, that the stowaway simply walked out of the toilet 45 minutes into the flight and took an empty seat, but stood out from the other passengers still wearing his overall. Police reported, that a flight attendant was puzzled about a toilet being locked up for a long time, therefore opened the toilet and found the stowaway.

    The Indian man (25) told the crew, that he had gone to Saudi Arabia 6 months earlier for work at the Madinah Airport as a loader, but hadn't been paid regularly and wanted back home, however the employer had confiscated his passport as is usual with foreign workers.

    Police is taking action against the stowaway for violations of the passport act and against Air India officials. India's Civil Aviation Authority have opened an investigation.

  • Sep 13th 2011, Uberlandia

    A Gol Linhas Aereas Boeing 737-800, registration PR-GGP performing flight G3-1779 from Porto Alegre,RS to Brasilia,DF (Brazil), was enroute near Uberlandia,MG (Brazil) when the flight crew decided to divert to Uberlandia to verify suspicions of a stowaway on board after unusual noises had been heard from the cargo area of the aircraft. The aircraft landed safely, no surplus of people was found on board.

    The aircraft arrived in Brasilia with a delay of 2.5 hours.

    The airline confirmed that the aircraft was diverted to verify a suspected problem prompted by noises in the cabin.

  • Jun 6th 2009, Washington

    An Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 767-300, registration ET-ALJ performing flight ET-500 from Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) via Rome Fiumicino (Italy) to Washington Dulles,DC (USA), had arrived in Washington without obvious incident. When the luggage handlers opened the cargo compartment and began to unload the luggage, they saw a hand amidst the luggage and found an exhausted and dehydrated man in his mid thirties. The man was brought to a hospital and taken into federal custody.

    Authorities believe, that the man had entered the cargo compartment in Ethiopia and remained in there for around 18 hours. They are about to send the man back to Ethiopia.


[English pages] Rendition aircraft

Rendition aircraft are aircraft used by national governments to move prisoners internationally, a practice known as rendition, the illegal version of which is referred to as extraordinary rendition. The aircraft listed in this article have been identified in international news media as being used for prisoner transports.

N221SG in Kabul, 2010
N221SG is a nondescript Learjet 35 with the tail number "N221SG", reported in the media to possibly be used as a US Department of Defense prisoner transport. The plane is registered to Path Corporation of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, identified as a CIA front company.

When the aircraft landed in Copenhagen, Denmark on March 7, 2005, the Danish opposition party Red-Green Alliance demanded an explanation of the plane's presence.

The last flight originated in Istanbul, Turkey on March 7, 2005. Turkish media reported at the time that individuals of interest to the CIA captured by the country's security services were to be handed over to the American intelligence agency.

N313P/N4476S (manufacturer's construction number 33010/1037) is a plain white 737-7BC Boeing Business Jet (BBJ) that the Chicago Tribune reported on Tuesday, February 6, 2007, flew from Tashkent to Kabul, Afghanistan on September 21, 2003, and then to Szczytno-Szymany International Airport in Poland, landing at 9 p.m. "It stayed on the ground for 57 minutes before taking off for Baneasa Airport in Bucharest, Romania, an airport that, according to the Marty Report, 'bears all the characteristics of a detainee transfer or drop-off point,'" states author Tom Hundley on page 14 of the Tribune. The 737 then continued on to Rabat, Morocco, and Guantanamo Bay, the Marty Report said. In 2004 the plane was used to render LIFG leader Abdel Hakim Belhaj and his wife Fatima Bouchar to Libya.

"The registered owners of both planes [Boeing 737, N313P, and Gulfstream V, N379P] appear to be CIA front companies. Previous attempts by the Tribune to contact the owners produced a trail of non-existent people at unlikely addresses, or law firms that did not want to discuss the nature of their interest in aviation. Both planes have been involved in rendition cases documented by the Tribune, other media and EU investigators," states the Chicago daily on page 14.

The aircraft is reported by news media to be used as a US Department of Defense prisoner transport. It is also known as the "Guantánamo Bay Express".

The N313P registration for a Boeing 737 was subsequently cancelled, and it was reassigned to an experimental Van's Aircraft RV-7. The 737, previously owned by Premier Executive Transport Services, was re-registered as N4476S in ownership of Keeler&Tate Management a company located in Reno, Nevada.

N44982 with a later registration: VH-CCC

The Gulfstream V executive jet with manufacturer serial number 581, changed registrations several times to avoid detection. Among the collection of former registrations are tail numbers N44982 N8068V, N379P, N581GA). The aircraft has been reported in several press sources as a U.S. Department of Defense prisoner transport, also known as "Guantánamo Bay Express". The craft has been reported to being used to transport suspected terrorists to undisclosed locations for either extraordinary rendition or into the CIA prison system. It has been the subject of criminal complaints and parliamentary inquiries.

According to an in-depth investigation into the worldwide network of detention and interrogation facilities employed in the War on Terror, by the British Guardian newspaper, (March 2005):

We were able to chart the toing and froing of the private executive jet used at [an abduction in Sweden] partly through the observations of plane-spotters posted on the web and partly through a senior source in the Pakistan Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI). It was a Gulfstream V Turbo, tailfin number N379P; its flight plans always began at an airstrip in Smithfield, North Carolina, and ended in some of the world's hot spots. It was owned by Premier Executive Transport Services, incorporated in Delaware, a brass plaque company with nonexistent directors, hired by American agents to revive an old CIA tactic from the 1970s, when agency men had kidnapped South American criminals and flown them back to their own countries to face trial so that justice could be rendered. Now "rendering" was being used by the Bush administration to evade justice.

Robert Baer, a CIA case officer in the Middle East until 1997, told us how it works. "We pick up a suspect or we arrange for one of our partner countries to do it. Then the suspect is placed on civilian transport to a third country where, let's make no bones about it, they use torture. If you want a good interrogation, you send someone to Jordan. If you want them to be killed, you send them to Egypt or Syria. Either way, the U.S. cannot be blamed as it is not doing the heavy work."


The first media mention of N379P was six weeks after September 11, 2001, when, according to the Chicago Tribune, a Pakistani newspaper reported that a student at the University of Karachi and a citizen of Yemen, had been seen being forced onto the plane at Jinnah International Airport by Pakistani security officers on the morning of October 23, 2001. The Chicago Tribune reported on the aircraft again on February 6, 2007, stating that N379P departed Washington Dulles International Airport July 27, 2003, and flew to Frankfurt, Germany according to FAA records. The FAA then records the Gulfstream taking off from Tashkent, Uzbekistan on July 31, 2003, bound for Glasgow, Scotland, and then return to Dulles. The Tribune then states that Polish aviation records indicate that N379P landed at Szczytno-Szymany International Airport, a remote airfield at Szymany, Poland, at 2:58 a.m. on July 30, 2003, after a flight from Afghanistan. How the aircraft moved from Frankfurt to Tashkent remains unreported. The Szymany airport is located southwest of the Stare Kiejkuty intelligence base in northern Poland.

The executive jet with the tail number N379P was again brought to public attention by Swedish TV4's documentary, Det brutna löftet ("The broken promise"), aired May 17, 2004. The documentary claimed that the expulsion of two men, Ahmed Agiza and Muhammad al-Zery - ordered by the Cabinet - to Egypt on December 18, 2001, was carried out by hooded U.S. agents. The plane booked by the Swedish Security Police (SÄPO) was cancelled when another plane arrived - N379P - a Gulfstream V executive jet supplied by the firm (Premier Executive Transport Services, Inc.) which works exclusively for the U.S. Defense Department.

Agiza and al-Zery were arrested and brought to Bromma airport in Stockholm where Swedish police handed them over to hooded operatives. The two prisoners had their clothes cut from their bodies by scissors, without their hand- and footcuffs being loosened. The naked and chained prisoners were given suppository of unknown kind inserted into their anus, and diapers were put on them. They were forcibly dressed in dark overalls. Their hands and feet are chained to a specially designed harness. On the plane, both men are blindfolded and hooded. The plane took off at 21.49 and set course towards Egypt.

Later on, when the Gulfstream's log books came into a journalist's hands, the wider scope became clear:

Analysis of the plane's flight plans, covering more than two years, shows that it always departs from Washington DC. It has flown to 49 destinations outside America, including the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba and other U.S. military bases, as well as Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Morocco, Afghanistan, Libya and Uzbekistan.

Witnesses have claimed that the suspects are frequently bound, gagged and sedated before being put on board the planes, which do not have special facilities for prisoners but are kitted out with tables for meetings and screens for presentations and in-flight films."

Registration history

Originally N581GA, it became N379P in 2000 when it was acquired by Premier Executive Transport Services. In December 2003, it became N8068V. On December 1, 2004, it was reregistered N44982, and ownership was transferred to Bayard Foreign Marketing, an apparent shell company registered in Portland, Oregon. Its registration was changed once more on January 20, 2006, as N126CH to XXXXX, 2930 Biscayne Blvd, Miami, FL 33137-4122. It was sold and reregistered to Wilmington Trust Company, 1100 N Market St, Wilmington, Delaware on August 18, 2006. The Aircraft was reregistered to VH-CCC and is now owned by Crown Melbourne Ltd, Australia where it is now used as a 'high roller' transport for Crown Casino.

Disappearance from the FAA's online registry

In January 2006, N44982 was re-registered as N126CH under N126CH Inc. Sometime in late 2006, the records for N44982 and N4476S seem to have disappeared from the FAA's registration database. In August 2006, the plane was again transferred to VH-CCC under Wilmington Trust Co Trustee. It is now under the ownership of Crown Melbourne Limited, to transport high rollers to their casino in Melbourne, Australia. As of 2014, N44982 is registered/reserved by a private person in New Jersey, USA.

Appearance in fiction

N379P appears in the episode "Hundrede dage" of the Danish TV series Borgen which focuses on the problems for the Danish prime-minister caused by the revelation of rendition flights landing at Thule.


Another Gulfstream V, N596GA, manufacturers serial number 596, has also been mentioned in print as a possible transport for the CIA program of extraordinary rendition. Author Dave Willis wrote in Air Forces Monthly in May 2008 that this airframe, ordered in 1999 by the United States Air Force as a C-37A, serial 99-0405, was rolled out as N596GA but only briefly took up its military serial before reverting to the civil registration, issued on September 20, 2001, nine days after the 9-11 attacks. It was registered to National Aircraft Leasing of Greenville, New Castle County in Delaware, "and is believed to have been used by the Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation Systems (JPATS), managed by the U.S. Marshals Service. JPATS is responsible for moving prisoners and non-US citizen criminals around and has its own fleet of aircraft, as well as frequently leasing others. N596GA is also said to have been used in the CIA's programme of extraordinary rendition against terrorist subjects."

The author also mentions N379P, of Premiere Executive Transport Services, (later N8068V and N44982), and its alleged use in rendition missions.

As of at least June 24, 2011, this Gulfstream V, c/n 596, flies as N977GA, registered to the United States Department of Justice. On the aforementioned date, this aircraft was dispatched to California to retrieve fugitive New England crime boss "Jimmy" Bulger and his girlfriend Catherine Greig, transporting them to Boston's Logan International Airport.

On October 5, 2012, together with a privately owned Dassault Falcon 900 (N331MC), the two planes carried terror suspects Abu Hamza, Babar Ahmad, Syed Ahsan, Khaled Al-Fawwaz and Adel Abdul Bary to the United States to face trial after losing their last-ditch attempt to stay in Britain.

N85VM/N227SV is a white Gulfstream IV jet aircraft with the tail number "N85VM", reported in the media as possibly being used as a US Department of Defense or CIA prisoner transport. The plane, owned by one of the partners of the Boston Red Sox, was seen in Cairo on February 18, 2003, wearing the team's logos. Because of the timing of the aircraft's arrival and departure, it was linked by the media as possibly the aircraft used to render Abu Omar, who had been captured in Italy and taken to Cairo where he was imprisoned by the Egyptians.

Between June, 2002 and January 2005, the aircraft made 51 trips to Guantánamo Bay, as well as 82 visits to Dulles International Airport and Andrews Air Force Base. It also visited U.S. air bases at Ramstein and Rhein-Main in Germany, Afghanistan, Morocco, Dubai, Jordan, Italy, Japan, Switzerland, Azerbaijan and the Czech Republic.

The aircraft was subsequently re-registered N227SV, with ownership being Assembly Point Aviation, which offers the aircraft for charter.

N987SA aka 'Cocaine One'

On September 24, 2007, Gulfstream II, N987SA, c/n 172, crashed in the Yucatan, Mexico, carrying 6 tons of cocaine. At the time of the crash, the business jet was registered to Donna Blue Aircraft Inc, which had acquired it using money from the trust of the company Powell Aircraft. The two flight crew and only occupants were Omar Alfredo "el Piolo" Jácome del Valle and Edic Muñoz Sanchez.

The same aircraft, while registered under tail number N987SA to Air Rutter International, a California-based air-charter service, had been involved in extraordinary rendition to Guantanamo Bay. Logs show that the aircraft flew to Guantanamo Bay from Washington, D.C. twice and from Oxford, Connecticut once. It is likely that the purpose of these flights was to ferry CIA and Pentagon interrogators to Guantanamo to question detainees.

Subsequently, the aircraft changed hands multiple times in quick succession. On August 30, 2006, it was sold to Donna Blue Aircraft, owned by two Brazilians. On September 16, not even three weeks later, it was sold on to two Americans, Clyde O'Connor and Greg Smith. Over the next two days, money from the Americans trust company Powell Aircraft Title was used to acquire the aircraft for the drug trafficker Pedro Antonio "The Architect" Bermúdez Suaza.

The aircraft departed Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport in Florida, USA, on September 18 for Cancun, Mexico, then flew on to Colombia to pick up the load of cocaine from the FARC rebel group before returning to Mexico. Bribes paid to local civil aviation officials in Cancun were supposed to allow the aircraft and its cargo to avoid customs on arrival, but only minutes from landing, Bermúdez personally phoned co-pilot Muñoz and demanded the crew divert to Manzanillo, over 1500 km to the west, on Mexico's Pacific coast. The flight had been tracked by the Mexican Air Force since it entered Mexican airspace and a heavy military presence was waiting for them on the ground at Cancun. When the Gulfstream deviated from its approach to Cancun, Mexican Air Force aircraft which had been shadowing it moved in to intercept. Trapped, the Gulfstream crew put their aircraft into orbit over the town of Tixkobob near Mérida in northwestern Yucatan for almost two hours before finally crash-landing in the jungle. Soldiers reached the crash site the next day, recovered 132 bags containing a total of 6.3 tons of cocaine from the wreckage and arrested the crew, who were injured and unable to flee.

N900SA - note the plaque next to the door

A McDonnell Douglas DC-9-15 aircraft with the former tail number N900SA (c/n 45775) was involved in drug smuggling and was caught with 5.5 tons of cocaine onboard after landing in Mexico on April 10, 2006. On April 13, 2006, the aircraft was deregistered and sold to an unknown customer in Venezuela. In December 2006, Mexican Newspaper Reforma reported the previously seized aircraft was being operated by the Procuraduría General de la República (PGR) to transport prisoners with extradition charges to the USA under Daniel Cabeza de Vaca and was based in Mexico City as XC-LJZ.

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