First Commercial Plane Hijacked to Cuba

Photo of National Airlines Convair 440
National Airlines Convair 440. Photo - San Diego Air and Space Museum

In-flight travel security has remained a sensitive issue since 911 but threats have been reported way back in the 60s.

On May 1st, 1961, Korean War veteran, Antulio Ramirez Ortiz hijacked flight National Airline Convair 440 and demanded that the pilot take a detour to Cuba at knife point. The vet planned an assassination of Fidel Castro, who sought asylum in the nearby nation.

In those days, the hijacking of a commercial plane did not count as a Federal crime and Ortiz was not heavily pursued.

Ultimately though, the bold plan backfired, with Castro mistaking Ortiz for a US spy and having him apprehended and imprisoned by Cuban officials.

The case of Airline Convair 440 marked the beginning of a series of plane hijacking in the united states, which were all set towards Cuba. US Authorities even considered the construction of a decoy “Havana Airport” in Florida where culprits would be misdirected for apprehension. The media made “take me to Cuba” a national tongue-in-cheek reference of the crisis.

Air flight security has come a long way since and suspected perpetrators are now liable for severe punishment in the under the law.

News film of first airline hijacking to Cuba, 1961

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