Sunday, August 18, 2013

the last book I ever read (Brendan I. Koerner's The Skies Belong to Us, excerpt three)

from Brendan I. Koerner's The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking:

Before Bearden could do anything drastic, Gilman punched him in the ear with all his might, shattering a bone in his right hand in the process. As the hijacker crumpled to the floor, the FBI negotiator spun and tackled Cody, who had let down his guard while listening to his father’s rant. Within minutes the two Beardens were lying prone on the tarmac, hands and feet chained behind them as if they were hogs. The dozens of newspaper photographers and camera crews who had gathered around the plane documented their humiliation; the media instinctively grasped the appeal of a lurid hijacking yarn.

On the afternoon of August 4, the Senate Aviation Subcommittee convened an emergency hearing to address the rash of hijackings. A weary Leonard Gilman, his broken right hand heavily bandaged, testified about his heroism aboard Flight 54. The head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Najeeb Halaby, presented a six-point antihijacking plan that called for cockpit doors to be locked and for pilots to receive firearms training. A Justice Department official announced that his boss, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, had authorized a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone involved in “the actual, attempted, or planned hijacking of aircraft.”

The senators, meanwhile, decried their colleagues’ failure to make hijacking a crime back in 1958, a blunder that meant the Beardens could be prosecuted only for run-of-the-mill kidnapping. Senator A.S. Mike Monroney of Oklahoma vowed to rush through legislation that would make air piracy punishable by life imprisonment. But Senator Ralph Yarborough of Texas pronounced that penalty too light. “When civilized nations begin hanging air pirates,” he said, “piracy will disappear from the air lanes.”

In the midst of all the aggressive posturing, a senator asked the FAA’s Halaby if he and President Kennedy had discussed the possibility of requiring airlines to screen passengers—perhaps by searching carry-on bags, a tactic that likely would have prevented the Beardens from boarding Flight 54. But Halaby scoffed at the idea as wholly impractical: “Can you imagine the line that would form from the ticket counter in Miami if everyone had to submit to police inspections?”

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