On April 7, 1994, Federal Express Flight 705, a McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 cargo jet carrying electronics across the United States from Memphis, Tennessee to San Jose, California, experienced an attempted hijacking for the purpose of a suicide attempt.
Auburn Calloway, a Federal Express employee facing possible dismissal for lying about his reported flight hours, boarded the scheduled flight as a deadheading passenger with a guitar case carrying several hammers and a speargun. He intended to disable the aircraft's cockpit voice recorder before take-off and, once airborne, kill the crew with hammers so their injuries would appear consistent with an accident rather than a hijacking. The speargun would be a last resort. He would then crash the aircraft while just appearing to be an employee killed in an accident. This would make his family eligible for a $2.5 million life insurance policy paid by Federal Express.
Calloway's plan was unsuccessful. Despite severe injuries, the crew was able to fight back, subdue Calloway and land the aircraft safely. An attempt at a mental health defense was unsuccessful and Calloway was subsequently convicted of multiple charges including attempted murder, attempted air piracy and interference with flight crew operations. He received two consecutive life sentences. Calloway's appeal was successful in having his conviction for interference ruled as a lesser included offense of attempted air piracy.
The 42-year-old Federal Express flight engineer Auburn Calloway, an alumnus of Stanford University, a former Navy pilot and martial arts expert, faced termination of employment over irregularities in the reporting of flight hours. In order to disguise the hijacking as an accident so his family would benefit from his $2.5 million life insurance policy, Calloway intended to murder the flight crew using blunt force. To accomplish this, he brought aboard two claw hammers, two sledge hammers and a speargun concealed inside a guitar case. It is unclear how Calloway planned to crash the plane or dispose of his intended murder weapons. Just before the flight, Calloway had transferred over $54,000 in securities and cashier's checks to his ex-wife. He also carried a note aboard, written to her and "describing the author's apparent despair".
Initially, Calloway was the flight engineer on this flight, but he and his crew exceeded the maximum flying hours by one minute the previous day, so the new three-man flight crew consisted of 49-year-old Captain David Sanders, 42-year-old First Officer James Tucker, and 39-year-old flight engineer Andrew Peterson. At the time of the incident, First Officer James Tucker held the position of Captain at Federal Express on the DC-10 and was also a check airman on the type. Aboard Flight 705, Tucker assumed the role of first officer. FedEx Flight 705 was scheduled to fly to San Jose, California with electronic equipment destined for Silicon Valley.
As part of his plan to disguise the intended attack as an accident, Calloway attempted to disable the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) by tripping its circuit breaker. During standard pre-flight checks, Peterson noticed the tripped breaker and reset it before take-off so the CVR was reactivated. However, if Calloway successfully killed the crew members with the CVR still on, he would simply have to fly for 30 minutes to erase any trace of a struggle from the CVR's 30 minute loop. About twenty minutes after takeoff, as the flight crew carried on a casual conversation, Calloway entered the flight deck and commenced his attack. Every member of the crew took multiple hammer blows which fractured both Peterson's and Tucker's skulls, severing Peterson's temporal artery. The blow to Tucker's head initially rendered him unable to move or react but he was still conscious. Sanders reported that during the beginning of the attack, he could not discern any emotion from Calloway, just "simply a face in his eyes". When Calloway ceased his attack with hammers, Peterson and Sanders began to get out of their seats to counter-attack. Calloway left the cockpit and retrieved his spear gun. He came back into the cockpit and threatened everyone to sit back down in their seats. Despite loud ringing in his ear and being dazed, Peterson grabbed the gun by the spear between the barbs and the barrel. A lengthy struggle ensued with the flight engineer and captain as Tucker, also an ex-Navy pilot, performed extreme aerial maneuvers with the aircraft.
|The aircraft involved in FedEx's 90's paint scheme|
Tucker pulled the plane into a sudden 15 degree climb, throwing Sanders, Peterson and Calloway out of the cockpit and into the galley. To try to throw Calloway off balance, Tucker then turned the plane into a left roll, almost on its side. This rolled the combatants along the smoke curtain onto the left side of the galley. Eventually, Tucker had rolled the plane onto its back at 140 degrees, while attempting to maintain a visual reference of the environment around him through the windows. Peterson, Sanders and Calloway were then pinned to the ceiling of the plane. Calloway managed to reach his hammer hand free and hit Sanders in the head again. Just then, Tucker put the plane into a steep dive. This pushed the combatants back to the seat curtain, but the wings and elevators started to flutter. At this point Tucker could hear the wind rushing against the cockpit windows. At 530 mph, the elevators on the plane became unresponsive due to the disrupted airflow. Tucker realized this was because the throttles were at full power. Releasing his only usable hand to pull back the throttles to idle, he managed to pull the plane out of the dive while it slowed down.
Calloway managed to hit Sanders again while the struggle continued. Sanders was losing strength and Peterson was heavily bleeding from a ruptured artery. Sanders managed to grab the hammer out of Calloway's hand and attacked him with it. When the plane was completely level, Tucker reported to Memphis Center, informed them about the attack and requested a vector back to Memphis. He requested an ambulance and "armed intervention", meaning he wanted SWAT to storm the plane. When Tucker began to hear the fight increase in the galley, he put the aircraft into a right turn then back to the left.
The flight crew eventually succeeded in restraining Calloway, though only after moments of inverted and near-transonic flight beyond the designed capabilities of a DC-10. Sanders took control and Tucker, who had by then lost use of the right side of his body, went back to assist Peterson in restraining Calloway. Sanders communicated with air traffic control, preparing for an emergency landing back at Memphis International Airport. Meanwhile, after screaming that he could not breathe, Calloway started fighting with the crew again.
Heavily loaded with fuel and cargo, the plane was approaching too fast and too high to land on the scheduled runway 9. Sanders requested by radio to land on the longer runway 36 left. Ignoring warning messages from the onboard computer and using a series of sharp turns that tested the DC-10's safety limits, Sanders landed the jet safely on the runway at well over its maximum designed landing weight. By that time, Calloway was once again restrained. Emergency personnel gained access to the plane via escape slide and ladder. Inside, they found the cockpit interior covered in blood.
|Crew reunion recalling the "bloody" flight of FedEx|
The crew of Flight 705 sustained serious injuries. The left side of Tucker's skull was severely fractured, causing motor control problems in his right arm and right leg. Calloway had also dislocated Tucker's jaw, attempted to gouge out one of his eyes and stabbed his right arm. Sanders suffered several deep gashes in his head and doctors had to sew his right ear back in place. Flight engineer Peterson's skull was fractured and his temporal artery severed. The aircraft itself incurred damages in the amount of $800,000 ($1,277,234 when adjusted for inflation).
Calloway pleaded temporary insanity but was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences on August 15, 1995, for attempted murder and attempted air piracy.
On May 26, 1994, the Air Line Pilots Association awarded Dave Sanders, James Tucker and Andrew Peterson the Gold Medal Award for heroism, the highest award a civilian pilot can receive. Due to the extent and severity of their injuries, none of the crew has, so far, been recertified as medically fit to fly commercially.
Although medically unfit to return to commercial aviation, James Tucker returned to recreational flying in his Luscombe 8A.
As of 2015, the McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 aircraft involved, N306FE, remains in service as an upgraded MD-10 without the flight engineer position, though it is expected to be phased out by 2018.