Monday, October 7, 2013

Love and terror in the sky


 Cathy Kerkow was a pretty hippie from Coos Bay. In 1972 she was living and partying in San Diego. There she met and was instantly attracted to Roger Holder, a troubled African-American Vietnam veteran who coped with his racing thoughts and violent memories by smoking copious amounts of dope. The two began a passionate romance.

Holder hatched a plan that embodies the principle of “So crazy it just might work” - he and Kerkow would hijack an airplane, rescue Angela Davis (the political activist then on trial for murder in San Francisco), drop her off in Hanoi, and then he and Kerkow would become homesteaders in Australia. When he asked Kerkow what she thought of the idea, she was thrilled. She asked what she should wear.

The story of Holder and Kerkow’s insane and daring adventure is told in The Skies Belong To Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking, by Brendan I. Koerner.

To say that events did not go according to plan is an understatement; but the Holder/Kerkow hijacking of Western Airlines Flight 701 was far more successful than anyone could possibly have predicted.

Koerner’s book doesn’t just concern itself with the mad exploits of Holder and Kerkow. He also tells of the epidemic of hijacking that took place on American aircraft from 1968 to 1973, when desperate people with guns and bombs hijacked commercial flights nearly once a week. I knew little of this period - my flying years began after improved airport security made hijacking a considerably more difficult business - and I find it extraordinary that hijacking was ever so common and was permitted to persist for so long.

For a breathlessly exciting and scary true read, check out The Skies Belong To Us by Brendan Koerner.

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