Seattle Marine hijacks a TWA airliner to Rome on October 31, 1969.

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 10/16/2001
  • Essay 1316
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On October 31, 1969, Raffaele Minichiello, a decorated Marine from Seattle, hijacks a TWA airliner on the West Coast and forces it to fly to Rome. The 6,900-mile, 14-hour odyssey to Rome is the longest hijacking yet. Minichiello will be sentenced to prison in Italy and released in 1971.

Minichiello was born in Italy in 1950. He enlisted in the U.S. Marines and after being wounded in Vietnam, he was stationed at Camp Pendleton, California. There he burglarized a supply store because he believed the Marines had cheated him out of $200 in a savings account. The day he was to appear at a court martial, he purchased a $15.50 ticket aboard TWA from Los Angeles to San Francisco. He boarded the plane with an M-1 Carbine, ammunition, dynamite caps, and a knife. Over Fresno, California, he ordered the pilot to fly to Rome.

At a refueling stop in Denver, Minichiello allowed all 39 passengers and two flight attendants to leave. One flight attendant remained on the flight voluntarily. The plane then took off for New York City, Bangor, Maine, Shannon, Ireland, and Rome. In Rome, Minichiello held an Italian official at gunpoint while the official drove him away from the airport. Italian police cornered the hijacker about 10 miles south of the airport at a religious shrine.

Minichiello was tried and convicted in Italian court for the hijacking and kidnapping and he was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison. An appeals court reduced the term to three and a half years. Italian president Giuseppe Saragat declared a general amnesty, knocking two years off of all prison sentences. Minichiello was released on May 1, 1971.

U.S. authorities indicted Minichiello in Brooklyn, New York, but Italian law did not permit extradition for any offense that carried the death penalty. While in jail, Minichiello became a folk hero to the Italian press and public. He was seen as a victim of the war in Vietnam.

Minichiello stated that he intended to get a job in Italy and to go to college. When asked by reporters if he had a message for the U.S., he said, "Hi."


Walt Crowley, Rites of Passage: A Memoir of the Sixties in Seattle (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995), 276; Paul Hoffman, "U.S. Hijacker Out Of Jail To The Bravos Of Italians," The New York Times, May 2, 1971, p. 1, 6.
Note: This essay was corrected on May 5, 2004.

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