In a Nutshell
Nowadays, with the multitude of threats that exist in this world, airport security is extremely robust, stringent and diligent. You’d never find anyone waltzing onto a plane with anything remotely dangerous anymore, which provides reassurance to everyone boarding the flight. But, back in the 60s, things were much different, and the world’s first sky-jacking took place. Luckily, a First Officer was prepared to play the part of hero…
The Whole Bushel
On the 19th of July 1960, Trans Australian Airways flight 408 was completing its final journey of the day from Sydney to Brisbane. The Lockheed Electra Mk 2 (VH-TLB) was transporting forty-three passengers and six crew members, with one of the passengers being a Russian man named Alex Hildebrandt. But, this one no ordinary man, it was a terrorist hell-bent on causing serious damage if his demands weren’t met.
Hildebrandt came fully prepared with a .22 caliber rifle, a boot knife, and worryingly, the equipment to assemble a deadly Improvised Explosive Device. Mid-flight, the Russian slipped off to the bathroom to embark on his crazy mission; in the bathroom, he assembled the bomb with a torch battery, detonator and two sticks of gelignite.
Now armed with an explosive capable of obliterating the plane and all on board, plus the .22 caliber rifle, he began shouting and screaming while standing in the aisle. Despite the constant threats from an obviously emotional individual, First Officer Tom R. Bennett, who was the co-pilot, chose to confront him. Bennett remained calm and attempted to converse with Hildebrandt to try and defuse the situation.
Although, Hildebrandt was having none of it, and recklessly fired a warning shot that missed Bennett’s head by inches. At this point, most people would retreat in fear, but Bennett retaliated by smashing him in the face with a clenched fist. With Hildebrandt disorientated, Bennett proceeded to yank the wires from the detonator in his hand which disarmed the explosive.
Seeing the First Officer acting as a lone soldier, Captain Lawrence assisted him to fully disarm and then restrain Hildebrandt by cuffing him. Both of them continued to complete the flight as if nothing happened, and safely landed the plan at it’s intended destination of Brisbane – all forty-three passengers were obviously startled, but absolutely unharmed.
Authorities then arrived when the plane was on the deck and took Hildebrandt into custody. After a series of court trials, the Russian was issued with a 15-year prison sentence, which consisted of charges for attempted murder from the warning shot, carrying an explosive and intent to destroy the aircraft.
On the contrary, First Officer Tom R. Bennett was rightly awarded the George Medal for such amazing bravery and courage during that flight. Plus, Captain Lawrence was also given tons of credit for his part in preventing the hijacker from harming anyone. Considering the fearlessness of the man, we can only guess that Bennett immediately went back to piloting planes.