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.