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$1m jet hijacker is brought to ground after 40 years on run

It must have seemed like the perfect crime when an escaped prisoner called George Wright put on a dog collar, hid a gun inside a Bible, and boarded Delta flight 841 from Detroit.

Looking to all the world like a priest travelling south on Church business, he was waved on to the plane, back in 1972.

But as the DC-8 prepared to land, Wright and four accomplices leapt from their seats.

This was a hijack by the militant Black Liberation Army, they declared. FBI agents were instructed to deliver $1m.



custody

The group flew to Algeria and disappeared. It was the height of the Cold War, and the country was a favourite hiding place for dissidents and militants.

Wright and his colleagues simply vanished. Some of them turned up in Paris, four years later, where they were imprisoned. But for decades, nothing was heard from Wright.

Until now. This week, Portuguese police descended on a seaside hamlet, 28 miles west of Lisbon. There, inside a whitewashed cottage, justice caught up with him after 40 years.

At 68, George Wright was enjoying the good life on the Algarve. Married to the 55-year-old daughter of a retired army officer, he had two grown-up children. Without any visible source of regular income, he supported his family with occasional odd jobs

One summer, he'd had a stall on a nearby beach; another, he ran a barbecue chicken restaurant, and recently worked as a nightclub bouncer.

Known locally by his real first name, he is said to have lived there for at least 20 years. Many locals had assumed Wright was African rather than American.

"He was a quiet guy, I never imagined George was in trouble," said a neighbour.

Wright is now in custody in Lisbon, and is expected to fight extradition to the US. If he loses, he may spend the rest of his life behind bars.

The 1972 hijacking was carried out by Wright, two men and two women, including his then girlfriend. They had three small children with them, including a two-year-old girl.

Having made the pilot land in Miami, the group ordered FBI agents to deliver $1m in cash to the plane. It was the largest ransom ever achieved by a group of airline hijackers.



ACTIVIST



The hijackers instructed the pilot to fly to Boston, where they refuelled and took delivery of an international navigator. They flew to Algiers, where they were taken in by Eldridge Cleaver, a left-wing American writer and social activist.

Then the New York Fugitive Task Force, formed in 2002, reopened the case and finally got their man.

hnews@herald.ie