Sixty-eight passengers and a crew of five prepared for take off in the evening of St. Patrick’s Day, 1970. The flight, Eastern Airlines Newark to Boston Shuttle, Flight 1320, departed a little before 8:00 p.m. In the cockpit, the captain of the flight was 35 year-old Robert Wilbur Jr., a former Air Force pilot. His first officer, James Hartley, was 31.
During the early 1970s, it was common for passengers on the shuttle flights to pay for passage after take off, somewhat the same as paying bus fare. One passenger, John J. Divivo, told the flight attendant he did not have money for the fare and requested to see the captain.
He made his request with a .38 caliber revolver.
Wilbur, a brand new captain of only six months, was about to deal with a very real hijacking situation. When Divivo came into the cockpit, Wilbur and Hartley assumed the deranged man would request to go to Havana, Cuba—the normal destination for hijackings in those days. Divivo had a different, more sinister demand.
Divivo told the pilots to fly out to sea until they ran out of gas.
The pilots ignored him. Seconds later, the deranged gunman shot the first officer with no warning. Hartley collapsed and then Divivo turned the gun on the captain, shooting Wilbur in the arm. During the process, Hartley regained consciousness and was up and out of his seat engaging the hijacker. He was able to wrest the weapon away from Divivo, shooting the hijacker three times who then lost consciousness also.
Mortally wounded, Hartley relapsed into unconsciousness. Wilbur declared an emergency, advising ATC that the hijacker had wounded his first officer and needed medical attention. He never mentioned the hijacker had also shot him. A few minutes later, when Divivo regained his senses, he started to rise from where he had fallen on the console between the two pilots. Wilbur, now in possession of the weapon, used it to beat the hijacker into unconsciousness again.
Wilbur did an outstanding job of flying the jet, getting it to the runway, landing, and dealing with ATC—all the while wounded. On landing, the authorities took Divivo into custody.
Divivo would never stand trial for his crimes; six months later while in prison, the hijacker managed to commit suicide by hanging himself in his jail cell.
Today, 41 years after the event, Wilbur says he rarely thinks about the hijacking. Each time he does reflect on what happened, he always pays homage to James Hartley, the man he considers the true hero of the flight.
© 2011 J. Clark