The Haitian airport guard didn't have a ticket or a passport but he did have an Uzi
Bad news: we almost died. Good news: I gave up smoking
Pat and I had been to Haiti once before during Papa Doc Duvalier's reign, and we loved this gorgeous island with its wonderfully warm people.
It was the government which we all feared, especially the Tonton Macoutes.
We were invited back by the government of Baby Doc Duvalier in 1984, and asked our friend Tom Cronin of Orleans to join us because he'd been there a dozen times and knew the lay of the land.
We covered the island from Cap-Haitien to Jacmel with stops at every town in between, but after two weeks, with a by-election looming, we began to hear drums in the jungle, and decided to leave a day early in case trouble erupted which it did a few months later.
When we arrived at the Port Au Prince airport a day early, Tom noticed a woman at the ticket counter who he recognized from a prior trip, and said he bet he could talk us into First Class.
His mission failed, but Patricia loves a challenge, especially from men, so she returned to the counter, and said, "What are all those people doing waiting outside?"
The clerk said they were waiting as stand-by in case any seats became available.
Pat then asked if there were any seat available in First Class.
The woman said yes, but these local people couldn't afford the much costlier tickets.
Holding out our three Economy Class tickets, Pat said, "If you bump us all to First Class, I'll give you our three economy tickets which you can then sell to them."
The clerk thought that a great idea, and we were escorted to the waiting American Airline 727 by a uniformed Haitian Army man in helmet, carrying grenades and an Uzi machine gun, pro forma for Haiti and other Third World countries in those years.
When we got on board the guard turned his Uzi at the captain and demanded to go with us. The door was closed, the hijacker sat facing the rear in the steward's jump seat outside the pilot's cabin while the negotiations went on for hours between the plane and the control tower.
So because of Pat's skills, we got to be sitting in the front row of First Class across from the guy with his Uzi stuck in our bellies for five hours as the government decided whether to let him accompany us to New York or try to take over the plane.
After an hour of staring at the muzzle of that Uzi, the three of us said we had to use the lavatory in the rear of the plane, but actually we planned to open the rear door and jump to the ground and escape.
The stewardess in the back, however, called the captain who told us that the plane was now surrounded by Haitian troops, and anyone jumping out would probably be shot by a nervous soldier.
So Pat and I slowly trudged back forward staring into that muzzle the whole time. I went through a pack of cigarettes in that time, and vowed that if I got out of this alive I'd take better care of whatever parts of me were left which meant I'd stop smoking.
Tom elected to hide in the lavatory until it occurred to him that if the plane was blown up he'd be projectiled out and land covered with that blue stuff they use in the toilet bowl.
The story on the February 12, 1984, New York Times read:
GUNMAN IN FATIGUES HIJACKS AN AIRLINER IN HAITI TO KENNEDY
A man with a submachine gun hijacked an American Airlines flight carrying 152 people from Haiti to New York last night, but surrendered his gun in midflight and asked that he be given political asylum, officials and a passenger on the plane said.
The passenger, Walter Brooks of East Harwich, Mass., said the gunman boarded the plane just before its scheduled takeoff at 7:30.
Mr. Brooks said the man, wearing military fatigues, a helmet and a belt ringed with grenades, pointed the submachine gun at the captain.
''We all thought he was from the airport's military police,'' Mr. Brooks said. ''We thought someone hadn't cleared customs.''
The gunman then ordered the pilot to take off immediately for New York, Mr. Brooks said.
The man was identified as Jean Phillippe Windsor, 33 years old, a corporal in the Haitian army and a security guard at the airport, according to James F. Murphy, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Maximum Passenger Load
The hijacked plane, American Airlines Flight 658 from Port-au-Prince to Kennedy International Airport, was a 727 ''stretch'' that was carrying its maximum load of 144 passengers and 5 flight attendants, according to a spokesman for American Airlines, Al Becker.
After nearly an hour of negotiating between the gunman and the pilot, the airplane took off, with the hijacker standing in the cabin doorway facing the passengers, Mr. Brooks said. At one point, he asked sharply for a drink but a stewardess quickly responded, ''I'm sorry, this is not a drinking flight,'' Mr. Brooks said
Throughout the flight, a stewardess Mr. Brooks identified as Marie Hayes acted as an interpreter between the pilot and the gunman, who spoke only Creole, the native Haitian language.
At 9:42 P.M., he surrendered his gun to the pilot and asked for political asylum, according to Fred Farrar, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration. The rest of the flight was without incident and the plane landed at Kennedy Airport at 12:06 A.M., according to Mr. Murphy, of the F.B.I.
Mr. Murphy said that Corporal Windsor was being held by Federal agents and would be charged with air piracy. He will be arraigned Monday by U.S. attorneys in Eastern District Court in Brooklyn, Mr. Murphy said.