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This podcast is intended for mature audiences, listener discretion is advised. Her exact. There's another hijacking in progress tonight. An American Airlines jet flight one 19 hijacked while en route from St. Louis to Tulsa, Oklahoma. The hijacker reportedly asking for half a million dollars ransom. He forced the plane to return to St. Louis. He allowed 80 passengers to get off. However, he's holding 14 male passengers and seven crew members hostage. The latest is that the plane has taken off again from St.
Louis, circling over the St. Louis area. It's not known whether the hijacker intends to fly on to some other destination or wait in the air until his demands are met.
Quiet had fallen over Lambert International Airport as soon as American Airlines Flight 119 made its first return to St. Louis. Inbound flights began circling, outbound flights were delayed and in a short amount of time canceled. The airport had shut down. Meanwhile, authorities descended on the area from the local metro police to the FBI. Inevitably, they were followed by the local press. No one wanted to miss the opportunity to break a hijacking story, and yet entirely by coincidence, one reporter had already gotten the jump.
I interviewed the head of security for American Airlines the day of the hijacking. He said some fairly provocative things like we would never consider using magnetometers to see whether people were carrying guns on the planes. That's Bill Free Vogul for many decades. He was a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and he was already at Lambert doing a story about the lax security on the day McNelly hijacked Flight 119, saying, oh, this is a little sitting there like me.
Hijackings in a place like saying all this while he was saying this, like almost the same time that McNabb was getting ready to get on the plane and hijack it. For a journalist, it was a good time to be asking the question far. For him, it was a bad time to be answering the question. As Bill had discovered, only two of the nine airlines at Lambert had metal detectors. Not that it mattered. Back on the tarmac, Mark caused a crisis and he knew it.
He watched from the plane windows as the flight traffic halted around him.
When we are on the runway initially all landing and takeoff stop, all traffic would stop at the airport. So this is intermittent. They're going from a lot of flights in and out. And then wherever we show up, everything stops. As far as what's going down in the terminal, it's my understanding this incident was covered on the local news minute by minute.
I do remember we were getting word in the early evening that something was going on through police scanners and wire services, that there had been a hijacking to our south and that the plane apparently was heading for St. Louis, which gave me and my cameraman the cue to get the heck out to Lambert and find out what was going on and see what we could see.
That's Don Marsh at the time. He was a young breaking news reporter for St. Louis as KTV news.
Now, the city's FOX affiliate certainly didn't expect it were going to spend most of the evening and well into the next morning at the airport. Well, we got to the airport and we were, as I recall, told to take position on the roof of a parking garage, which was just outside the perimeter of the airport. We got there, as did other media, about the same time. Early evening wasn't quite dark, about a thousand yards away, I would say, around a single plane.
It was floodlit. There was some activity around it, but we didn't know precisely because we had access to no kind of information, anyone telling us exactly what was going on. But it was just a waiting game. We were waiting to see what was going to happen before. Two very long things did begin to happen, though, to quite startling to those of us on that roof.
This is American Skyjacker, the final flight of Martin McNelly. I'm your host, Danny Ouessant Housekeep. In our third episode, Martin McNelly has successfully hijacked an airplane and received half a million in cash from the FBI.
Now he just needs to figure out how to get away. The five parachutes Mac requested in his list of demands had finally arrived on Flight 119 by the late evening, Sharon Mattio remembers the series of events clearly.
I had parachuted in nineteen seventy one. I knew when they brought the parachutes on board that they did not bring McNelly the good ones. They brought him reserve chutes and I didn't say anything to him, but they Bonnies five bird shoes. And I looked at these purses and I said, Where are the backpacks? You got me. Reserve emergency shoes. You trying to kill me? Instead, there were harnesses for the parachutes. This was a problem for Mac.
Something he hadn't picked up on during his crash course in skydiving at the local library.
He did not know how to put went on. He said, tell one of the guys up front to show me how to put this on. So they sent the flight engineer back who demonstrated how to put on a harness and attach the parachute. But the straps were tight and he was sort of hunched over and make now he had the gun on him. And he said, that doesn't look right to me. And at this time, the captain said, we have a parachute expert at the airport who will show you how to put one on.
I looked at my watch and I said, I don't have time to delay this thing any longer. I'll have to go with the reserve chute. I want to open up three of these shoots, three of these chutes, open them up front lines. And if I see a strong line that is ripped, it's all over. So they did that. They open up these chutes to shrug lines. Everything was intact. So I got to believe that these other two chutes are going to have good do make.
Now, we got up and had the other girls. Flight attendants helped them into his harness. There was one time when his arm got caught in the strap and it went through my mind. We can get them, we can jump in.
But I was the largest of all the flight attendants, there were petite little girls, and I don't know the other men who are were our hostages were several rose up, but it flashed through my mind.
Maybe we could get them.
But I didn't move now that all of Mac's demands had been met. The money, the parachutes, even the collapsible military shovel. He decided to release most of those remaining on the plane as both a gesture of goodwill and because it meant having fewer people to keep an eye on.
McNelly originally wanted to keep the four of US flight attendants and two hostages, and we told him there was no way we could all fit in the cockpit. So he said, then, I want two girls and one hostage. You can talk among yourselves who wants to stay? So my flying partner and I had been flying three months. The other two were very seasoned at three and four years. And the girl who was the number one flight attendant said youtoo to my partner and I, you two get off here.
So that's when we got off. I remember being at the top of the portable stairs, very dark. Where do we go? I remember the air hitting my face and I'm free. But I also remember we're leaving our two flying partners back. And that was scary. We go down the stairs. Out of the darkness came this pickup truck. The guy yelled out, FBI, hop in. So we hopped into his pickup truck and he took us to the back of the airport.
Now, finally, Mac was ready to move on to the next phase of his plan, take flight once again, this time on course toward Canada. But what happened next was truly stranger than fiction. The hijacking was starting to gain traction in the news and all over the country. Networks were cutting into their regularly scheduled programming. In other words, they weren't running commercials or anything else. That's what I understand. And I also understand that traffic was backed up for or mile or maybe two miles on I 70 coming and going.
People in the area heard this on the news, saw live on TV, and they wanted to go to the airport to see what was happening. So there was thousands of people at the airport, at the terminal. While some of those were local onlookers, many were passengers either trying to leave St. Louis or just passing through on their way to somewhere else. All those people were now stranded. Their flights canceled. And a lot of them were angry.
Across the street from Lambert was the Marriott Hotel, and its bar was now packed with weary travelers drinking away their frustrations while watching the hijacking unfold live on a small black and white television hijacker reportedly asking for help.
It was a lively scene, and for some, the alcohol was helping to quiet their grievances. For others, it was having the opposite effect. It's just past midnight and one man at the bar had been watching and listening to the events unfold with a growing amount of frustration. This man's name was David Handly. He was a local St. Louis resident who was supposed to be picking someone up from the airport that evening, but couldn't for obvious reasons.
The story was that he had been drinking in the bar. He was waiting for an arriving relative at the airport. He was there and he was drinking. But as I recall, the story very clearly indicated he was not intoxicated, but he was ticked off about what was going on. That's Kay, TVI news reporter Don Marsh. Again, in that bar, they had the ongoing traffic between air traffic control and airplanes coming and going.
And that was piped into the bar and people could hear a whole sort of Delta taxiway, what they were saying. I don't I don't know. But it was fairly routine stuff except involved in the conversation was something about negotiations going on with a hijacking. Hanley got ticked off about it. He thought something should have happened, not enough was happening. So he said he would take things in his own hands. He told the people as he was leaving the bar.
Listen to your radios. You're going to see here a really big story. Just a couple of minutes. According to witnesses, Hanley exited the bar, climbed into his Cadillac and peeled out of the parking lot, driving across the street and into the airport literally. He drove directly into the first of two steel mesh fences surrounding the runway just below where the television media, including Don Marsh, had positioned themselves on the roof of a parking garage. I recall very vividly what happened when Mr.
Hanley left the bar. A late model Cadillac, as I recall, was crashing into the fence, a chain link fence, that fence that was just below us. It's very noisy, squealing wheels. Noisy because of the impact of the car and the fence. And took two or three stabs defense before finally breaking through, and there was another fancy video beyond it. That was the the limit to the security around the airport. It was just a couple of chain link fence.
Anyway, the car crashed in that second fence two or three times again, finally knocked it down and then raced out onto the onto the airfield.
Watch that car take off and go to the west end of the airport and just kind of sit there. They couldn't hear it. Gunning Assange and he had the feeling it was like an animal pawing the ground, just getting ready to do something. Ultimately, it did. Meanwhile, over the prior 15 minutes, Flight 119 had been making final preparations for takeoff with Mack the money and the tools for his getaway.
All onboard now we're ready to take off. I think it's about 12:00 midnight. The tanks were topped, filled up. I told the pilot we're going to Toronto. Toronto Airport, Canada. And what we're going to be doing is we're gonna be gone 200 feet above the runway. So I can identify that this is the Toronto airport. I've been there before, so I'll know. And while I was just B.S. because I had no intention of going in Toronto or anywhere else.
We've got everything ready to go. The pilot starts to gun the engine and we're rolling. That car took off toward that airplane and it was very, very clear to all of us that it's going to crash with that plane, is going to try to disable the plane. We supposed. We knew the plane had been refueled and I'm sure all of us were aware if there was an impact. That car impacted that airplane. It was going to be one hell of a fireball.
And the story was going to change very, very dramatically at that point. We're rolling slowly roll. And all of a sudden he pulls it back, pulls the throttles back. He says there's something on the runway.
It looks like there's a vehicle on the runway there, a truck on the runway. There's a truck coming down the runway. Oh, my God.
It's going to his home. Bone is the nose, nose wheel. And then the Cadillac turned around and rolled.
To one of the main street tires. Almost as surprising as what had just occurred was the fact that the newly refueled 727 hit at over 80 miles per hour by a two ton battering ram, didn't explode.
All of us were just amazed that there wasn't more to it than that. The car crashed into the front of the plane, the nose and plane, the front wheel. Amazingly, nothing happened. I can't imagine what the people inside that plane were thinking. Watching that car heading straight for it and at a full speed. I had no idea that this was going down. I had all the windows close, so I didn't see anything out the door. I'm figure not the pilot.
The FBI are pulling something here. And I jump out of my seat and I'm screaming, get this fuckin plane in here. I don't want to hear any bullshit. Get this fucking plane in the air. So the pilot comes on and he says, we've been hit by a vehicle and we can't take off in this plane.
Let's pause for just a second before we get back to Mac and his now busted plane. A brief interlude on the fate of the hijacked foiling hero who never was the man behind the wheel. David Handly. During all of this understandable chaos, David Handley's totaled Cadillac was being doused in foam by firefighters to put out its engine fire. Hanley somehow was still alive in the driver's seat with his head split open. Multiple fractured ribs, a shattered jaw and a whole host of internal injuries after being cut out of the car and taken to a nearby hospital.
He was subsequently charged with the federal crime of willful destruction of an aircraft.
Hanley claimed to have no memory of the entire incident. That was his story and he stuck with it. According to reports at the time, over the next year, Hanley would almost die twice while recovering from his injuries. In fact, he was in such bad physical shape that when he was finally arraigned in court, the U.S. attorney decided to drop all charges, saying the man had already suffered enough. And what then Handly returned again in a 1976 story in the St.
Louis Post-Dispatch. This time as a self-proclaimed unemployed inventor making a zero probability run for the Democratic presidential nomination. Quoted in the story, Hennelly described the 1972 hijacking as his one claim to fame. And in what appears to be Handley's last published firsthand recollection of the incident, he said, quote, When I said I'd stop that damn plane damn near killed myself, but I stopped in.
After that, it's hard to say what happened to the would be hero when the Cadillac handly, it seems, vanished. A strange footnote in history. With the plane he had hijacked, now critically damaged. Martin McNally's is obvious, yet brilliant next move was to demand another one.
I said tell the pilot to nullify ground control that we are going to take any 727 jetliner on this runway. I don't care which airline owns it. We're gonna take it. The tanks need to be topped off with fuel. We need to get back up the year quick, because if this goes on much longer, there's gonna be a problem. So they really that a message to ground control and they had maintenance fuel 727 on the runway.
When they got that done, it took them about 90 minutes. All I can tell you is this totally screwed up my itinerary, my time frame.
Now, with a new plane right outside, Mack had to figure out how to get his money, his parachutes and himself from one 727 to the other without being picked off by snipers strategically positioned on the nearby terminal rooftops.
Now, I know this is going to be a very precarious situation because I know these people want to kill me. I don't know that they've got five sharpshooters on me. I fear one or two, five of them trying to get a bead on my my head. I told them ground control.
I don't want to see any flashlights, any flashes, any cameras or any stuff like that after having a few hostages carry the money, parachutes and shovel. It was time for the star of the show to make an appearance on the runway. Reporter Don Marsh had a sniper's perspective to max transfer between the planes as they move from one plane to the other. He was, as I recall, just in the middle of that group. So if there were sharpshooters, that would not have an easy target.
There was only one one stewardesses out was was going to be going with us. I told this girl, you stay close to me. I had my Anna Shakey's and I put it up to my head like this in my right hand and the gun was in my left hand. So we walked down the steps. And then we started walking slowly to the second plane. The second plane is about a hundred and fifty feet in front of us where I told him to put it.
And I'm looking around. I see this guy in a truck on the side of the plane. There's a light on in the truck. It looks like he's holding a weapon. A rifle pointed at me and I stop. Boy, my weapon at him. I'm standing near. I started to pull the trigger. If there was a hair trigger, that thing would have gone off. Boom, boom. But he put his hands up like this one in his hands up, saved his life.
There's no question about it. Now, aboard the new plane, Mac hurriedly checked it for any stowaway law enforcement.
I went up on the plane. I went up to the plane and started going through the plane down the aisle, looking at all the seats. I looked in the men's room, woman's room, and I'm looking for somebody who shouldn't be there. Everything was fine. And then the pilot asked me, what's next? I says, you need to get this plane in the air fast. So they raised the rear stairs. And within minutes, we were in the air.
Finally, math was back in the air with a new jet. Five hundred thousand dollars in ransom money and parachutes. Despite all the bumps and roadblocks, this small town crook had just pulled off a heist even bigger than D.B. Cooper. And to the casual observer, it would seem Mack was one parachute jump away from freedom. Any criminal in his position would have been elated. Mac, not so much. I was angry. I knew I was in trouble.
I was depressed. My plan was going awry. There was a likelihood that I'm going to have absolute failure. On this thing here, because I don't know where I'm going. I have no idea where I'm at. It's going to be trouble. It's late. We're getting off the ground at approximately chorded it, too. I think it was. I knew that I had to revise my plan about getting out of the plane. Mac's original plan called for him to jump out of the plane in total darkness so as to conceal his exit.
But David Handley's stunt had cost Mac valuable time. And now he was racing against the sun. While the pilot steered north for the Canadian border, Mack was counting on jumping early as they passed over Michigan. He was counting on not making that jump in full daylight. If he didn't make it in time. His cover would be blown everybody else's up in the cockpit. And I'm in the aisle. I got my gun in my hand, got some money.
I got my hand grenade. I'm thinking this. I've got several options here. Number one, I can go up to the cockpit and not going to dawn, Tom. And this was really a joke. I was doing this dance some fun. I could do that and go right to prison for this. Or I can come back here and I can bail out and hope for success by bailing out. Or number three, I could just kill myself, right?
No. Take the gun and pop it in my head. I said to myself, well, I'm not going to go up there into the cockpit and turn myself in. I'm not going to kill myself to end this thing. So I'm going to bail out and take my chances. Max, plan for bailing out of the plane entailed opening and jumping out of the rear staircase of the 727, a design feature common on Boeing aircraft during this period. After instructing the pilot to fly at 10000 feet, the cabin would no longer be pressurized, theoretically allowing the door to open without Mack being sucked out immediately.
The co-pilot came back and he said, I've never opened the door in flight, so I don't know if I'm going to be sucked out or what. I said, OK, let's get it done. Fortunately, neither man was sucked out. So Mack escorted the co-pilot back to the cockpit. Now crowded with all the remaining hostages. He told them he'd be exiting the plane over Canada. And after he was gone, he instructed them to reroute and land in New York at JFK.
Of course, that was a lie. Mac was getting ready to jump and he had to do it as soon as possible.
Told the pilot, don't open this door again until we get to JFK because that's our next location is jerky.
Now, the rest of the plane to himself, Mac, acted quickly. He took the large heavy leather mail bag packed with the half million in cash and tied it to his belt with some twine. He purchased at a hardware store in Detroit. He then put on one of the harnesses and parachutes, hoping he accurately remember things. Truncheons from the parachuting expert earlier in the evening.
I went into the back, threw out the gun, out the briefcase. He had a shakey's, threw out the hand grenade, which was a smoke bomb, and started down the steps very, very slow. Now, I've never parachuted before and I don't know how this is going to going to pan out here. But I got to the bottom of the stairs and then I'm trying to think of how am I going to do this when I do just jump out like this or what?
When I was I'm looking as I'm looking down, it's clear and I can see lights and the lights are spread apart. So this is definitely not a city and it looks like a rural area. I ease out the last step is here I EASO and then I turn turn over. I'm hanging up the steps. I'm facing down my my body's facing down and my hands are hanging on like this. And I look up and I think to myself, my God, if somebody from the cockpit came out here and saw me like this and had a gun, they could just kill me right now.
So what I did, I released my hands. One thousand feet above the Boeing 727. From a vantage point of a military surveillance plane, an FBI agent observed a small, dark object falling rapidly from the rear hatch.
And I immediately go into a configuration where my feet are going down. Feet first. My hands were at my side. I looked down and my goggles, they were jammed up into my eyes. And then when I looked like this gone, the wind took them off. So my guy was gone. I'm flying down now. I don't know how I leveled out so that I'm going down face first and I'm thrown to the earth and I can just feel the air coming, going through my fingers like that.
I was thinking, boy, this is balls, man. This is really nice. So I'm flying down like this, and I know it's just about time to pull a ripcord. I get the money in here, right here. So what I do is I pull this hand in real slow. I don't want to destabilise me. I don't want to go into a roll or anything. So I pull his hand in and I'm figuring it. This is when I grab the report and will report.
Mind you, I don't know what to perish because I left this hand out. I went into a spin. And when I went into a spin, it was a panic spin. Oh, there's no question as I was panicked. I don't remember pulling that ripcord. But when I went into that spin, I had apparently pulled the rip cord is snapped. And when it did blossom open. This parachute, which was a reserve chute, flew out for.
In my face, my face was screwed up. My eyes were somewhat blackened. I had skin ripped onto my chin. But what happened is that I grabbed a hold of the shroud lines and yanked under shroud lines. If I've got resistance, I know that not none of the panels have ripped out. But if I don't have any resistance in this thing, just swallows just come in, I'm dead, and it's time to say a good act of contrition.
Oh my God. I am really sorry for having offended you and all this other stuff. I got resistance on the front lines, so then I got out and slapped my side like this. And I'll be damned. That's why I looked down. The full weight of Newton's law had just come down on deck for the action of his parachute opening, allowing him to float safely back to Earth. The equal opposite reaction was the mailbag of five hundred thousand dollars being torn loose from the twine tied haphazardly around his waist.
Mack had survived the jump, but the bag of money wasn't so lucky. After a harrowing leap of faith from the back of a 727. Martin McNelly had just successfully deployed his parachute, but the bag of five hundred thousand dollars he had tied to himself was torn loose.
It was plummeting down to the dark earth below. And his baggage leather mailbag is spinning, rolling over and over and over. Is it? Oh, my God. Oh, my God. I'm looking around for vector points. There's nothing. And I said, oh, fuck. My money's gone. There's no way, you know, I can I can ever get that again. I said, it's over. It's over. All this time. All this money and what have I got?
Nothing. Mac was now floating through the sky somewhere over North America in the middle of the night. Wanted by the FBI for air piracy with no idea how he was going to get away in that moment. He was ready to end it all.
I disconnected this leg strap, disconnected.
I disconnected this leg strap. It's disconnected. I disconnected this, I pulled it, and I pulled it out just a little bit.
I says, wait a minute here. We haven't connected it up again and made sure it was connected. And I said, well, the money's gone, but I'm still here. The money can be replaced. But I can within two weeks I'll be back up again. Within two weeks, I'll be back up again and I'll get a million dollars and two packages. Five hundred thousand dollars each. And I'll take the plane over above St. Louis and I'll say I'm back.
Here's a half a million. I'm keeping the other having me. Where there's life, there's hope. And you got to believe and have faith that there's light at the end of the tunnel. Despite losing the money, Mack was now determined not to get caught. First, however, he had to figure out how to land in his parachute in the middle of the pitch black night.
When I landed, I got to tell you, I hit hard. My feet hit first and then my butt hit the ground and then my head. And I was actually seeing stars where there were no stars because there were clouds.
I jumped up and I collapsed the chute. And then I just stood there. I stood there. And what do you think I heard?
I heard dogs all over the place, probably for miles. Well, the dogs knew something was up and they were trying to alert their owners.
I didn't see any lights come on in the area homes. So what I did, I took the chute, wrapped it up and carried it with me. Mac began to walk through the darkness, carefully climbing over a pair of barbed wire fences and finally finding a dense patch of forest that would offer him cover. When the sun rose, no.
The original intention was to leave the area immediately hotwired a car. But my head hit the ground so hard I was not in any shape to be driving or anything. So I was in deep trouble and I knew it.
I found a tree and I put the chute underneath the tree.
I got into the chute. Between issue and put some leaves over it. And I went to sleep.
And I woke up about 12:00 noon, a helicopter flying over me right over me. I could see I could actually see the shadow of the rotor. I could see the shadow just going over me. These guys were hot looking for the skyjacker.
But the search was actually three miles away, tucked in his parachute. He laid there waiting, listening until the helicopter flew off and the peacefulness of the forest returned. Then he fell asleep again. Yeah, it was about 6:00 p.m. that I woke up, got out of the parachute. At that time, I took the parachute and put it under the tree trunk, brushed off my clothes and got myself looking presentable.
Mack hiked a short distance to a nearby road, trying to get a sense of where exactly in America he once I knew we were in farm country.
I had no idea what state I was in and a car was coming. I looked at the license plate. Indiana, the next car that came by was Indiana. The third car came by. The fourth car came by. The fifth car came by. So I know at this time here that I am somewhere in Indiana where I have no idea. I don't know anything about Indiana. And I started walking in a direction. I walked a couple of feet and I stopped and I looked around.
It's all black going in a direction.
And I'm going in and I turn around and there's light in the sky in the other direction. So I'm figuring it. That's where I need to go, where there's light. And I start hitchhiking with my hand. So I'm walking down the road, walking down the road. No other car came by. I guess about five minutes later, a car came by and a car turned around and stopped in front of me. This guy got out of the car.
He said, What are you going? I says, I'm going to Detroit. He said, Where are you coming from? And I think he identified himself as a police officer. As the most wanted man in Indiana, Mack was now face to face with off duty law enforcement on a deserted country road somewhere amid the farmlands. There was a pistol in his back waistband. And a steely determination not to get caught. But like many other things in this story, what would happen next wasn't what anyone would expect.
On the next episode of American skyjacker, Mack tries to find a way out.
And as we're walking, I told him, don't look at the cars just straight ahead and don't look at anybody.
Don't be conspicuous. Just walk like a regular person. American skyjacker is written, created and produced by Eli Chorus and Joshua Schaffer of Picolo Pictures, executive produced by Jason Hoak and produced by Andrew Richards of Imperative Entertainment, hosted and co-produced by myself.
Danny was in Housekeep, co-produced and sound, edited by Nixon, Tanaka's assistant, edited by Max Drank, poll associate produced by Devin Manzie and our colleague produced by Chris Morcom. Our artwork is by Jeff Quinn. Music composition is by Michael Kramer, with assistance from Adam Dib of Tin Man. Music sound mixing by Shindig Music and Sound based on the beach in Playa del Rey, California, hosted recording by Clayton Studios in St. Louis and additional sound mixing and voice recording by Christy Williams.
Archival Legal by Davis Wright Tremaine and Production Legal by Sean Fosset of Raymond Legal. P.c American Skyjacker is a co-production between Imperative Entertainment and Pecola Pictures. Follow us on Instagram at American Skyjacker or at Peggy Lowe Pictures. And please write and review the podcast on whatever platform you listen to. Thanks again for listening.