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Mon, 07.31.1972

Blacks Hijack Delta Airlines Flight 841

*On this date in 1972, the Delta Air Lines Flight 841 hijacking occurred.  Members of the Black Liberation Army took over the aircraft in flight using weapons smuggled on board, including a handgun hidden inside a bible with its pages cut out to form a cavity.

Seven crew and 94 passengers were on board the Douglas DC-8 for the flight from Detroit to Miami. None of the hostages were killed during the hijacking.  Five hijackers who had boarded with three children took over the aircraft. It flew to Miami as originally scheduled, where the 86 passenger hostages were released. The aircraft was then flown to Boston, where they picked up a flight engineer qualified to fly the plane overseas.

Working with FBI agents on-site, Boston Delta airport maintenance foreman Ronald S. Fudge was chosen to refuel the plane and deliver the flight engineer to the plane. He also delivered a bag containing the $1 million ransom and other bags containing provisions requested by the hijackers, including cigarettes, apples, and ham and cheese sandwiches.

After refueling and taking on the engineer and provisions, the plane was dispatched to the runway and flew to Algeria. Algerian authorities seized the aircraft and ransom, which were returned to the U.S. with the crew hostages, but the hijackers were released after a few days.  Four of the five hijackers were captured in Paris on May 26, 1976, and tried by the French courts. The remaining hijacker, George Wright, was arrested in Portugal on September 26, 2011. Wright was an accomplice in 1962, armed robbery and homicide who had escaped from a prison in New Jersey before joining in the hijacking.  

The four hijackers living in France since 1973, George Brown, Joyce Brown, Melvin McNair, and Jean McNair, were arrested by French police in 1976 after the US pressured French officials since France does not extradite political exiles. The two men served three years in French prisons, and the women received suspended sentences because they had children. George Brown and Melvin McNair were released in 1981, and all four remained to live and work in France with their families. George Wright was the lone Panther who fled to Portugal from France and has lived in Portugal with his family since the early 1980s. Portugal has denied US authorities his extradition because Wright is a Portuguese citizen protected by its constitution.

In 2010, a documentary titled Nobody Knows My Name was made about the hijacking. According to the film's producer, George Brown lived in Paris but was not worried about being extradited because he had already served his sentence. In 2012, a documentary titled Melvin & Jean: An American Story was made by director Maia Wechsler. Melvin McNair and his wife Jean worked at an orphanage in the French town of Caen, where they reportedly turned their lives around completely. McNair was known for coaching American baseball and teaching youth the art and strategy of the sport. Jean McNair died on October 24, 2014.

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