Accused hijacker on run from New Jersey for 41 years is arrested

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 27, 2011 5:13 PM
Accused hijacker on run from New Jersey for 41 years is arrested

By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A murderer who escaped from a New Jersey prison and was accused in a passenger plane hijacking has been arrested in Portugal after 41 years as a fugitive, the FBI said on Tuesday.

George Wright, 68, was arrested by the Portuguese Judiciary Police on Monday after the FBI, the U.S. Marshalls Service and New Jersey authorities tracked him down to a town outside Lisbon.

Wright was convicted in 1963 for the murder of Walter Patterson, a World War II veteran, whom he shot during an armed robbery the previous year of a gas station in Wall, New Jersey.

While serving his 15- to 30-year prison sentence, he escaped from Bayside State Prison in Leesburg, New Jersey, in August 1970, along with three other men. Eventually he made his way to Detroit, where he joined the Black Liberation Army, a black-nationalist militant group, according to the FBI.

On July 31, 1972, he was among five hijackers who, with three small children in tow, commandeered a Delta flight from Detroit to Miami, the FBI said.

After landing in Miami, the hijackers demanded a $1 million ransom for the safe release of the passengers. They insisted the FBI agents deliver the money wearing only swimsuits to ensure they had no concealed weapons.

The hijackers then forced the plane to fly to Algeria, hoping to seek asylum.

Algerian authorities, however, seized the plane and the money, returning both to the United States, and arrested the hijackers before releasing them a few days later.

In 1976, four of the hijackers were located and convicted in France, but Wright remained at large until Monday.

Michael Ward of the FBI's New Division said in a statement on Tuesday that Wright's case should "serve notice that the FBI's determination in pursuing subjects will not diminish over time or distance."

Wright was being held without bail by Portuguese authorities and faces extradition back to the United States to serve the remainder of his sentence for his murder conviction.

An FBI spokesman said he could not comment on whether Wright would face additional charges for his role in the Delta hijacking.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Jerry Norton)