Date: October 31, 1969
Flight Info: Trans World Airlines Flight 85 from Baltimore to San Francisco, with scheduled stops in St. Louis; Kansas City, Mo.; and Los Angeles.
The Story: With the exception of an inebriated oil worker who wished to visit his estranged wife in Arkansas, the first several dozen American skyjackers were interested solely in obtaining passage to Cuba. The airlines thus geared their hijacking protocols toward getting planes to Havana as quickly and safely as possible. All planes were outfitted with navigational maps of the Caribbean, for example, and pilots were issued phrase cards to help them communicate with Spanish-speaking hijackers. These measures proved useless, however, when Raffaele Minichiello inaugurated the skyjacking epidemic’s second, more chaotic phase.
A native of Melito Irpino, Italy, who had immigrated to Seattle as a teen, Minichiello earned a Purple Heart as a Marine in Vietnam. Upon his return to California’s Camp Pendleton in April 1969, he came to believe that his unit’s paymaster had shorted him $200 in salary. Despite the relative pettiness of the disputed sum, the 19-year-old Marine considered himself the victim of a great betrayal.
One night in May 1969, Minichiello decided to exact his own form of justice. He guzzled eight cans of beer and broke into the Camp Pendleton post exchange, where he took precisely $200 worth of radios and wristwatches. When he was court-martialed for the burglary in September, Minichiello opted to flee the country rather than face trial.