Mental Floss

True Crimes: The Man Who Hijacked a Cargo Jet

Kara Kovalchik
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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

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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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