On This Day

A PBY-5 Catalina plane, akin to the Miss Macao seaplane that was hijacked.

On This Day: First Commercial Flight Hijacked

July 16, 2010 08:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On July 16, 1948, armed men hijacked a flight carrying 23 passengers from Macau to Hong Kong. Only one survived the plane’s subsequent crash.

First-Ever Commercial Hijacking Has Lone Survivor in Ringleader

As the seaplane Miss Macao rose into the sky over the South China Sea, one of four men who boarded the plane with guns walked from his seat and “ordered the pilot to surrender the controls.”

The copilot grabbed a crowbar and attempted to hit the gunmen. The “pirates fired wildly at the two pilots,” killing both, Time magazine reported. Once shot, the main pilot, Dale Cramer, an American, fell dead over the controls. The plane flew out of control, sending passengers into the aisles, as it dove into the sea.

Only one of the 26 people on board survived. Fishermen found Wong Yu, the confessed leader of the hijacking, in the sea. He had jumped out of the plane’s rear emergency exit prior to the crash.

The apparent goal of the hijackers was to hold the wealthy passengers for ransom, although the plane regularly carried gold bullion as cargo, so some sources speculate that the hijackers wanted the gold.

Over the next 30 years, hijackings became increasingly frequent. The 10-year average—between 1948 and 1957—was just over one per year, but the annual average from 1968 to 1977 climbed to 41 per year.

Since 1948, airline security measures have improved greatly and the number of hijackings has not again reached 1970s heights.

Later Developments: Hijacking becomes associated with terrorism

The U.S. Department of State provides a chronological description of significant terrorist attacks since 1961. Arguably the most notable of these to today’s youths were the hijackings of Sept. 11, 2001.

“This was the bloodiest day on American soil since our Civil War, a modern Antietam … not with soldiers but with secretaries, security guards, lawyers, bankers, janitors,” Time magazine recounts in an article written three days after the collapse of the targeted World Trade Center towers. But quite unfortunately, many other hijackings, also with dire outcomes, had happened before.

Michael Clarke, Professor of Defence Studies at King’s College London, explains in London paper The Times why terrorists are drawn to hijacking. Clark states “there is nothing quite so photogenic as a stricken aircraft, or quite so obscenely violent as a mid-air explosion.”

Reference: The U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission


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