True Crimes: The Man Who Hijacked a Cargo Jet

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Airplane hijackings were not uncommon in 1994, but usually such extreme actions were undertaken by fringe terrorist groups with a political statement to make, and who usually used a large passenger jet to make said statement. It's no wonder, then, that the Memphis Tower requested clarification more than once as to what airline was declaring an emergency due to an attempted takeover on April 7. Federal Express? A cargo plane? It was strange, but true.

The Perpetrator

Picture 282.pngAuburn Calloway worked as a pilot for FedEx, but he had fudged his resume a bit and had greatly embellished his flying experience while serving in the U.S. Navy. When he was scheduled for a disciplinary hearing he panicked, assuming that he'd be fired. He launched a pre-emptive strike at the company that he thought was unfairly singling him out and decided to, in one fell swoop, both provide for his family and punish FedEx. His plan was to hijack a FedEx flight by attacking the crew with a hammer, then take control of the plane and crash into the Memphis headquarters of the company. By using a hammer as a weapon, autopsies on the remains would only show blunt-force trauma, which would be typical in an airplane collision. Thus, no suspicion would fall back on Calloway and his beneficiaries would receive the full amount of the many hundreds of thousands of dollars of life insurance he'd recently purchased.

The Crime

Calloway boarded FedEx flight 705 as a "jump seat" passenger — a perk allowed to FedEx employees when there was ample space. The only baggage he'd brought aboard was a guitar case. When the flight crew boarded, they were surprised to see Calloway already on board and initiating pre-flight procedures. They said nothing, however, and he relinquished the engineer's chair and settled in the jump seat.

Less than 30 minutes into the flight, Calloway opened his guitar case and produced a claw hammer, which he used to rain blows on the heads of Captain David Sanders, First Officer Jim Tucker and Flight Engineer Andy Peterson. What Calloway hadn't counted on was the tenacity of that flight crew; despite gaping head wounds that penetrated their skulls and caused partial paralysis, the three men fought back. Two of them physically wrestled the hammer from Calloway, who retreated temporarily and then returned with a spear gun. Tucker, his right side completely paralyzed, managed to pull the control yoke to his chest with his left hand, causing the jet to go into a barrel roll (at 400 miles per hour!). That maneuver threw Calloway off-balance and allowed Sanders and Peterson to tackle him and hold him down. The DC-10 went into a dive at over 500 mph, something the craft was not designed to do, but somehow Tucker, with only one working hand, managed to pull out of the dive and radio the tower with an emergency call. The tower thought it had misunderstood; "say again?" it radioed the pilot, not understanding how a cargo plane could be undergoing an attempted takeover.

The Aftermath

FedEx 705 was ultimately cleared for landing on any runway it could manage. Thanks to the heroic efforts of the flight crew, not only did the plane land safely, they also managed to keep Auburn Calloway subdued until authorities boarded the craft in Memphis and arrested him. Due to the severity of their head injuries, David Sanders, Jim Tucker and Andy Peterson were permanently grounded and never flew again. Auburn Calloway was sentenced to life in prison without parole. He is currently serving his time in a California prison and protests his conviction via his website. [Note: Page no longer available.]

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July 24, 2008 - 11:01am
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