Hijacking epidemic in America: 1961-1972

It has been called a hijacking epidemic. Between 1961 and 1972, more than 150 flights were hijacked in American airspace. At the height of the trend, aeroplanes were hijacked at a rate of nearly one per week.

The hijackers' reasons were varied. Some wanted to escape to countries like Cuba and Algeria. Others used the planes and their passengers as leverage to extort ransom or to promote a political cause.

Brendan I Koerner, author of The Skies Belong to Us, told the BBC that news of each air piracy incident inspired others.

"It was a time when people kind of embraced outlaws," he said, "because there was so much distrust of the establishment."

In the period before universal airport security checks, it was easy to bring a gun or homemade bomb onto a plane. Airlines usually gave in to all demands, hoping to get the passengers and planes back safely.

Two of the most unlikely skyjackers were disillusioned Vietnam veteran Roger Holder and 20-year-old party girl Cathy Kerkow. In 1972, they commandeered a Western Airlines flight to Seattle, and after a few missteps, escaped across an ocean with a half million dollars in ransom money.

Produced by the BBC's Ashley Semler and Bill McKenna

Video courtesy: British Pathé, Prelinger Archives