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The single event that most administrators at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University would most like to be forgotten was the 1986 hijacking attempt on a Delta Airlines DC-9 by a “one time, part-time, former student”. Of course the entire event and the repercussions that were attached were so amazingly silly that there was no way on earth that it could avoid appearing in my cartoon strip. It gave me the chance to zap the “Young Republicans” which was an ERAU campus abomination of the intended organization, and to concoct the “Lavender Berets”, a fictitious group of “...selected students from all branches of R.O.T.C. formed into an instant action strike-force.” For those who are unaware of the actual story, it goes like this...

One day in 1986, a lonely, dejected, and beaten up by life individual was hanging out at Daytona Regional Airport contemplating how many times he’d been screwed-over by people for their own amusement. Fortunately, all I needed to do was come up with another cartoon and I would feel much better. I was totally unaware that right across the airport, another poor slob was about to take out his woes in a far less constructive manner which would provide terrific material for that week’s strip. This guy decided that he would down many adult beverages and then hijack a DC-9 using the gun that he was keeping in his pocket, fly it off over the ocean alone and crash it into the sea ending his troubles.

This was not your well-planned and highly organized act of air piracy. The guy reportedly could not fly and had little or now knowledge of the official response and tactics used in dealing with such actions. He simply waited near the swinging door of the terminal used by crews when they left their aircraft and once the Delta captain and flight attendants had started through the door, he pushed his way past them and went out the “in” door and walked aboard the DC-9, gun in hand.

Up in the student newspaper office, I was still pondering how dull the day was when over the airport scanner, the ground controller, although he never used the word “hijack”, was heard to ask the Delta flight if he was aware that he was squawking the code for “Hijack”. The DC-9’s first officer, who was caught aboard when the slob with the gun boarded, answered that the code that he was squawking was correct. This of course got the attention of everyone in the Avion office, myself included.

It seemed as if only minutes passed before the authorities had sharp shooters in place, and the entire university was pinned against the fence watching the show from the front row. Classes emptied, flights were stopped, everyone was in position to take a stray bullet and loving it. Soon the Daytona P.D. decided that the campus needed to be cleared. Driving around the campus the police cruisers announced, “...classes are canceled... the school is closed... leave the area at once...” Having first hand experience with the Daytona P.D., I knew that when they told you to “leave”, you should silently make tracks otherwise you would next be in need of Tylenol and ice-packs... so I dispersed myself back up to the Avion office.

Soon came the radio transmission that the DC-9 was starting engines. The controller later asked “...where do you want to go?” to which the Delta pilot coolly answered, “I don’t know, I’ll have to ask.” We all waited as the aircraft began to taxi. As it came to the crossing runway, the controllers asked it to stop because of a landing aircraft. Just then an ERAU Cessna 172 swooped down low along the runway right in front of the stopping DC-9. The 172 was piloted by then ERAU instructor Mitch Williams, and the whole maneuver was a set-up to get the DC-9 stopped long enough for the sharp shooters to pop the jet’s main tires. We all heard the shots, and a moment later, the tower radioed to the Delta jet that one of their main tires was going flat. The First Officer responded that he would go back and take a look, and a moment later he radioed that he was returning to the gate and he had possession of the hijacker’s weapon. As it turned out, the Delta pilot had coolly convinced the hijacker that his plan sucked. The hijacker was later taken into custody without resistance. Yet, the weirdness did not end there.

In keeping with their loathing of all things Embry-Riddle, the local media dug up the fact that the hijacker had, as it was described to me, “...attended some classes part time of one term...” at the university. So of course the bent of every story was that an Embry-Riddle student had hijacked an airliner at Daytona Beach Regional Airport. Next, the students who had been ordered off of the campus by the police department, and thus missed tests and classes, were told that the classes had not been canceled and they would not be allowed make-up exams. In a savvy move that only a university administrator can muster, Dean Reisbig’s office addressed the problem in an effort to create a solution. They said that no police car had made any such statement, and we were all suffering from a mass hallucination. They stuck to that story. Later the airport authorities took steps to improve security and insure that another such incident would not occur - they placed a potted plant in front of the door through which the hijacker had passed to make it more difficult to exit through. In all, most of the credit for a job well done has to go to the pilot of the DC-9, who when confronted with an idiot, did everything right. Most of us in professional aviation have seen the Delta Airlines training tape on what to do when you get hijacked, and there is nothing in there telling you what to do when a doofus attacks.

I’m not sure what exactly became of the hijacker. He probably got a couple of centuries in jail meaning that he will likely be eligible for parole before my student loans are paid off. I still have this image in my mind of him in the “Hijacker’s wing” of the federal penitentiary yarning of his effort to commandeer an airliner, while assorted terrorists listen intently over a lunch of beans and cornbread. Of course, by now his version probably involves him having his way with all of the flight attendants and gunning it out with the FBI before being brought down by 20 agents with stun-guns.

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