In 1971, three hijackers took over TWA Flight 106 and diverted the plane to Cuba. One of the passengers on the flight was Jerry McNerney, who is now a congressman from who represents California’s 9th District which includes most of Eastern Contra Costa County in the U.S. House of Representatives. National Public Radio’s Robert Siegel spoke to McNerney about his push to extradite Charles Hill, the last of the three surviving hijackers from Cuba.
SIEGEL: And first, take us back to that day in November 1971. What do you remember of the hijacking?
MCNERNEY: Well, the first thing was that there had been a high-profile murder of a state trooper just west of Albuquerque maybe three weeks before the hijacking. And it was very big news. These folks were very desperate to leave the country. And I didn’t expect, of course, them to hijack the plane I was on. It was an evening flight – or red-eye flight really from Albuquerque to Chicago. And in those days, we didn’t have the jet walks. You had to walk on the tarmac and walk up the stairs to the airplane.
SIEGEL: The other fact about those days was there were a lot of airplane hijackings in those days, particularly in 1971.
MCNERNEY: There had been. And that was of course on people’s minds. And in fact, my parents dropped me off at the airport. And my mom waved good-bye and said now, don’t get hijacked, Jerry. So we walked up the stairs, and I turned around and there was someone with a gun not right behind me but a few people behind me. And then before long, it became obvious that these were the individuals that were responsible for the killing and that they were making an effort to leave the country.
SIEGEL: You mean they actually hijacked the plane while it was still on the ground? This wasn’t in midair?
MCNERNEY: That’s correct, yeah. They just had stolen a truck and burst through the fence, drove up to the base of the airplane and just walked up the stairs. They finally got everyone in their seats. The captain got on the plane and said please everyone be calm, you know, and nobody will get hurt. People stood up and said well, what are you going to do? And so we got airborne and they said well, the hijackers would like to go someplace in Africa, but we’ve warned them that the plane wasn’t an intercontinental plane. And then about an hour later they said well, we’re going to be going to Cuba. And then another hour later, they said well, we’re going to drop off in Tampa, Fla., and let everyone off except the crew, which is what happened. We landed peacefully and were allowed to get off the plane. And they took off and went to Cuba.
SIEGEL: Plane goes off to Cuba, the crew then flies back. Last summer, you wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry asking that Charles Hill’s extradition be part of diplomatic efforts with Cuba. It’s been almost 45 years. It’s still important to you?
MCNERNEY: Well, yeah. I mean, these individuals killed a law enforcement officer. They hijacked a plane and put 150 people’s lives at risk, including my own. I think the one that’s remaining alive should return home and face justice. This is about as serious a set of crimes as you can possibly commit.
According to a Daily Mail article, dated August 13, 2015, Hill, who is now 65-years-old, is one of 70 Americans currently living in Cuba as political asylum-seekers who lawmakers are petitioning Sec. Kerry to have extradited back to the U.S. to face justice. The improving relationship between the two countries leaves their protection up in the air.
The article also states:
Hill was part of a group called the ‘Republic of New Afrika’ which wanted to break off from the United States and found an independent Black nation.
In 1971, while traveling cross-country with two other members of the group, they were pulled over by 28-year-old New Mexico State Trooper Robert Rosenbloom, who later was found shot to death.
The three men were accused of Rosenbloom’s murder, and Hill to this day professes his innocence.
He does, however, admit to hijacking a TWA flight with the other men and flying it to Havana where Fidel Castro granted them political asylum.
For the past 44 years, Hill has built a life for himself in Cuba, living in a home provided by the government.
Cuban government spokesmen so far have said that they will not be extraditing anyone back to the U.S.
Congressman McNerney represent California’s 9th Congressional District that includes portions of Contra Costa, San Joaquin and Sacramento Counties.
To hear McNerney’s full interview and read the transcript click here.
To read the complete Daily Mail article, click here.
To read and watch an interview with Charles Hill done in 2013 by CNN, click here.
Publisher Allen Payton contributed to this report.