Five Hijackings So Lame, EgyptAir MS181 Doesn’t Even Make The Cut

Here's a hint: Don’t sew your own parachute.

Lame Plane Hijackings
Jean-Michel TURPIN/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Even hijackings with no threat of real violence must be horrific for the victims who at the time don't know the difference, but It’s a sign of the times that when we heard a man wearing a fake suicide vest ineptly tried to hijack EgyptAir Flight MS181, possibly to communicate with his wife, our first reaction was, “Aww, what a silly goose.” Terrorism is real, and it's ghastly, so the later discovery of the whole thing's absurdity is...well, oddly comforting, actually.

It's also a bit of a throwback: until 9/11, “hijacking” tended to be a much more, shall we say, polite experience. Pilots and crews tended to be accommodating, civilian deaths were comparatively rare, and the whole scenario was usually far less likely to conclude in horrific violence or a massive explosion. They were better times, simpler times, when the demands were about life's incandescent pleasures, like love. And beer.

In celebration of the peaceful conclusion to the Flight MS181 incident we’ve pulled together a list of five of the lamest airline takeover attempts in aviation history. All concluded in a fashion so anti-climactic, the luster of nostalgia makes them seem almost funny.

(Note that only one person died in all five incidents combined. And he was a hijacker with a homemade parachute.)

The Kids Are All Right

Back in the 1960s taking over a plane was so easy, even a kid could do it. Or so thought David Booth, a 14-year-old Ohioan who on November 10, 1969, headed to Greater Cincinnati Airport, took an 18-year-old ballet dancer named Gloria Jean House hostage at knifepoint, and commandeered a Delta Airlines DC-9. Having neglected to decide where he wanted to go in advance, he picked Sweden on a whim—only to be told the twin-engined jet couldn’t make it across the Atlantic. After 75 minutes, Booth surrendered to airport police. He was sentenced to six months in a home for troubled teenagers.

A Bad Case of Beer Goggles

Making poor choices while drunk is par for the course, but late-night Taco Bell take-out pales in comparison to taking over an airliner. And yet on June 21, 1985, an inebriated male on a Braathens SAFE Boeing 737 flying from Trondheim to Oslo pulled a pistol and emphatically requested an audience with the Norwegian Prime Minister. After landing in Oslo, he released the 116 passengers but kept the five crew members aboard as hostages. He didn’t hold them long, though: After about an hour, the gunman handed his gun over to authorities—in exchange for more beer. Had he been flying with Wade Boggs, though, he might have had enough suds to hold out for weeks.

Sorry, They Vati-can’t Help You

It sounds like a scene from “The Da Vinci Code”: As Aer Lingus 164 was descending towards Heathrow on May 2, 1981, 55-year-old Laurence James Downey popped into the ‘loo, poured fuel all over himself, then dashed to the cockpit and told the pilots to set course for France. Once on Gallic ground, Downey had the pilot toss a nine-page statement out the window in which he demanded the Pope reveal the Third Secret of Fatima. After an eight-hour standoff, French special forces took the plane and apprehended Downey without incident. Nineteen years later, the Vatican revealed the Third Secret; suffice to say, self-immolation to read an account of a symbolic vision would have been considered a bit on the dramatic side.

Epic Fail! Parachute Edition

It seems self-evident that parachutes aren’t the sort of thing you should make at home, but no one told this to Reginald Chua. On May 25, 2000, Chua—toting a gun and a hand grenade—fired a blast into the bulkhead ofPhilippine Airlines Flight 812, demanding access to the cockpit. The crew refused, so he settled for robbing the passengers. Chua then told the pilots to descend and depressurize the plane so he could hop out and descend to safety using his DIY chute. But like many a virgin skydiver, once the door was opened, he freaked out and refused to jump, so a helpful flight attendant gave him a shove into the wild blue yonder. His body was found three days later, buried in mud.

Unlucky at Love Field

Hostages are like pop flies: you’ve got to keep your eyes on them. It’s a lesson 22-year-old ex-football player Billy Hurst should have kept in mind after he took Braniff Airlines Flight 38 hostage by claiming he had a suitcase full of dynamite. After the plane landed at Dallas’s Love Field, Hurst kept the crew captive but released the passengers in exchange for passage to Colombia or Panama, plus a long list of supplies: multiple parachutes, high-top boots, a machete, some rope, a million bucks in cash, and of course, eight box lunches. (Hijacking apparently works up quite the appetite.) Unfortunately for his best-laid plans, while Hurst was inspecting the ‘chutes the crew snuck off the plane, allowing the FBI to capture the hijacker without further ado.