@brendankoerner

Date: March 31, 1971

Flight Info: Delta Airlines Flight 400 from New Orleans to Chicago, with a scheduled stop in Birmingham, Alabama.

The Story: The 14-year-old Mathews, described by his mother as a “gentle, meek, mild-mannered boy,” was upset over his tenuous family situation—his parents were divorced, and his father, a carnival worker by trade, was rarely present. On the morning of the hijacking, Mathews ditched school and took a bus to the Birmingham airport, where he managed to board Flight 400 despite not having a ticket. Before the plane could even takeoff, he pointed a small-caliber pistol at a fellow passenger and said, “You are going to Cuba with me or are you going to get off?” He then trained the weapon on a pair of sisters and declared, “Now I’ve got me two good hostages.” A stewardess named Marilyn Jordan volunteered to be Mathews’ hostage in the sisters’ stead, and she convinced the youth to let all 17 passengers go. After negotiating with airline officials for 40 minutes, Mathews decided to give up on his plan and surrender.

The Upshot: Jordan, the stewardess, volunteered to let the troubled Mathews spend the summer with her family in Texas. As a result of her generosity, Mathews was allowed to plead to a misdemeanor as a juvenile, which meant that he would serve no jail time. But two years after this lucky break, the teenager violated his probation and was sent to a youth facility. His fate beyond that is unknown.

Check out THE SKIES BELONG TO US