They sprinted across Newark Airport, two middle-aged men desperately trying to make their 7:30 p.m. shuttle home to Boston. By the time they managed to get aboard Eastern Airlines Flight 1320, lugging their carry-on bags, they were both sweating. As the stewardess secured the passenger door behind them, Lloyd Pedersen looked back to his colleague and said, “How lucky are we?”
This shuttle flight on Saint Patrick’s Day 1970 was less than two-thirds full. But because it was unassigned seating and most of the passengers had congregated toward the front, the two late arrivals had to keep walking past lots of weary businessmen in suits and loosened ties before they found seats together.
Lloyd clambered into the middle seat. A 43-year-old supervisor at General Electric’s plant in Lynn, he had flown to North Carolina the day before to review new equipment. Despite being an Air Force veteran, he dreaded flying. Now, after a late connecting flight, he just wanted to get home to his wife and two kids in Peabody. Although he didn’t know his colleague Al Cavalieri all that well, he had found him to be good company. A sociable 48-year-old, Al was a mechanical engineer with a wife and houseful of kids back in Topsfield.
Within minutes, the plane, with its 68 passengers and five crew members, was in the air. It was scheduled to land in Boston in under an hour. When the no smoking sign went off, passengers were free to light their Winstons and Marlboros. Others flipped through magazines to pass the time, including one who perused a Reader’s Digest article titled “Is There a Substitute for God?” The man in the window seat next to Lloyd and Al dozed. Lloyd eyed him enviously — he was always too anxious to sleep on flights.
About 30 minutes into the flight, Lloyd and Al were talking shop when two stewardesses appeared at their row pushing a collection cart. Passengers didn’t need reservations for the Eastern shuttle, and they paid in the air — the standard fare on this night was $21. Most paid in cash; those who used a credit card would get a carbon paper receipt.
One of the stewardesses was blonde, the other brunette. A third stewardess, who had black hair, was in the back of the cabin. They wore blue polyester jumpsuits. All three were in their 20s, attractive, and slim — they had to be. Airlines subjected stewardesses to regular weigh-ins, and many women resorted to diuretics and laxatives to stay below their mandated limits. The brunette greeted Lloyd and Al. Her name tag read Sandy. She was pleasant and efficient, and soon moved on to the row behind them.
Just after 8 p.m., the pilot turned on the fasten seat belts sign. The plane would soon be making its descent. Lloyd could see Boston’s lights coming into view out the window.
When he glanced to the left, though, he spotted something bizarre. Sandy, the stewardess, was walking toward the cockpit, trailed closely by a young, thin guy with thick sideburns and shaggy brown hair. Even though the cabin was dimly lit, he was wearing dark sunglasses, as well as a ragged suede coat. To Lloyd, he looked like just another hippie — they were everywhere these days. If Lloyd had to be on a plane, he longed for the time when everyone dressed in their Sunday best.
Nothing about this seemed right. The hippie walked with his arms awkwardly folded, as if hiding something. And he was heading to the cockpit when the fasten seat belts light was on and the plane was close to landing.
A passenger sitting a few rows ahead pointed to the hippie and, with a thick Jersey accent, loudly cracked, “Who does he know?”
Something told Lloyd this wasn’t a VIP getting special treatment. He would have been even more certain had he seen what the hippie had kept under his seat or what he had packed into his checked luggage.
Lloyd watched Sandy pick up the intercom phone outside the cockpit, speak briefly, and hang up. She exchanged a few words with the guy, then picked up the phone again. The cockpit door opened. The hippie turned to face the passengers, and Lloyd could see that he was smiling. He stepped into the cockpit. Sandy closed the door behind him. She flashed a puzzled look before quickly replacing it with a neutral one.
Lloyd’s anxiety spiked. “Al, that guy shouldn’t be up there!” he said, tapping his seatmate’s arm. “What’s he doing up there?”
Al agreed it made no sense. He wondered if the hippie might be a hijacker. More than 50 US flights had been hijacked in the previous two years — in 1969 alone, Eastern Airlines had been targeted 10 times. Yet all those so-called skyjackings had ended peacefully, with no fatalities. The hijackers would typically demand money and command the pilot to fly to Fidel Castro’s Cuba, where they hoped to find asylum. Skyjackings were so common that the airlines seemed to treat them as little more than a nuisance. Even passengers didn’t seem too put out. In exchange for the inconvenience, they would typically get bottomless drinks and a story of adventure they could tell for the rest of their days.
Al stopped Sandy as he walked by. “Are we going to Cuba?”
“Oh, no,” she replied reassuringly. She headed to the rear of the cabin, where the other two stewardesses were counting up the fares. A few minutes later, she took an empty seat behind Lloyd and Al in preparation for landing.
Because Al had taken this shuttle flight many times before, he knew its contours. Pointing out the window, he told Lloyd that the plane was not banking toward Logan Airport. Instead, it now appeared to be flying east, over the ocean. It seemed to be climbing. Soon, the city lights below fell out of view.
A few minutes later, there was a commotion in the cockpit, then the sound of two gunshots, in quick succession. Then a pause, followed by two more shots — maybe three.
Then dead silence.
Al turned around to see Sandy on the edge of her seat, her face frozen. “What’s going on?”
“I don’t know,” she replied.
Suddenly, the cockpit door swung open, kicked by a man as he collapsed to the floor.
The 1960s had begun with swinging jet-set glamour, growing American hegemony, and a charismatic, youthful president who promised to get us to the moon. By the end of the decade, we had made it there, but not before losing that president as well as his brother and Martin Luther King Jr. Meanwhile, the peace and love ethos of Woodstock lost out to the Manson murders, raging protests, and the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont that left four dead and hardened older generations against the hippie counterculture.
Change would also reach the higher altitudes. The airlines, which were not allowed to set their own fares, had long competed for male business travelers by hiring the most alluring stewardesses. But a landmark 1971 US Supreme Court decision would change that. Airlines would no longer be able to discriminate against male applicants, leading the term stewardess to be phased out in favor of the gender-neutral flight attendant.
There were no indications that Eastern Flight 1320 from Newark to Boston 50 years ago would turn into a skyjacking, much less one that would help reshape how we fly. True, 1960s America had been plagued by these incidents, starting in 1961 and intensifying as the decade drew to a close. Time magazine had even published an article at the end of 1968 titled “What to Do When the Hijacker Comes.” But none of those had turned deadly and, besides, this particular flight seemed like the unlikeliest of targets. It was a short-hop shuttle in the Northeast that carried nowhere near enough fuel to get to Cuba.
Yet to experts like MIT professor Arnold Barnett, this Saint Patrick’s Day flight in 1970 is a dividing line in aviation history. Before it, the major carriers could get away with treating the threat of hijacking as barely more serious than an air traffic delay, and with letting passengers walk onto planes without even bothering to screen them. After it, everybody knew better.
The shift would usher in the 1970s, a new decade grounded not in glamour but in dark reality: stagflation, gas lines, Watergate, America’s first lost war. And the end of innocence in the skies.
Sandy Saltzer became a stewardess to see the world. A native of upstate New York, she earned a college degree in nursing and landed a good job in a school system. But three years in, she was restless. After she began dating a pilot, she decided being a stewardess would be a nice diversion, buying her time to figure out what she wanted to do with her life.
The 26-year-old had been flying with Eastern for six months when, at the beginning of March 1970, she began a stint with the Newark-based shuttle crew. The route offered little in the way of adventure — two daily round-trip flights between Newark and Boston, back and forth, back and forth. Not that there weren’t upsides. This route gave her a consistent schedule and the chance to get to know the same small crew — a pilot, a copilot, and two other stewardesses.
The flight was too short to provide a drink service; collecting fares took up most of the time in the air. On Flight 1320 to Boston, the third of their four legs for the day, Sandy worked the collection cart with Christine Peterson, the 25-year-old blonde who was the crew’s senior stewardess. Arlene Albino, the third member of their team, was 22.
When they pushed their cart to the second-to-last row, Sandy greeted a young guy with sunglasses who was occupying the middle seat. He had the row to himself. She smiled and asked for $21.
He handed her several bills.
She counted up $16. “There’s not enough here, sir,” she said politely.
He looked confused, hesitating for a moment. He then reached under his seat to retrieve a black leather Kodak camera bag. A label on its carrying strap read JOHN DIVIVO, NY. He unsnapped the case and pulled out a black Colt revolver.
“Don’t get excited,” Divivo said, speaking with a slight slur. “I want to see the captain.”
He stood up. He had some kind of walking stick next to him, but he left it behind. Not wanting to cause a panic, Sandy had the presence of mind to ask Divivo to hide his gun. He did, crossing his arms over it.
Sandy walked down the aisle first. He walked with a slight limp, but trailed so closely that it unsettled her. When they made it the cockpit, Divivo gestured for her to open the door. “You can’t go in there,” she told him. “I’ll have to call him first.”
She picked up the intercom phone. She knew that Bob Wilbur was 35 years old and had been promoted from first officer to captain a few months earlier. But over just a few weeks working on his crew, she had found him to be a Southern gentleman and as sure-footed as any seasoned veteran. “Captain,” she said, as quietly as possible, “there is a man outside with a gun who wants to see you.”
“I cannot help you now,” Wilbur replied. “I’m too busy.” He sounded distracted — she figured he hadn’t really heard what she’d said.
She hung up the receiver and told Divivo that the pilot and copilot were too preoccupied getting ready to land so they wouldn’t open the door. Although the man’s sunglasses concealed his eyes, she could detect an instant change. As anxious as she had been from the moment he revealed his weapon, she had been confident he could be reasoned with, like the hijackers she’d heard about on all those other flights. She didn’t believe that now. “Call him back,” the man snapped.
She picked up the receiver and repeated the message. She spoke slowly and firmly. “You don’t understand, Captain,” she said. “He has a gun.”
Wilbur understood. “Well, I guess you better bring him up here,” he said.
The DC-9 cockpit was so small that copilot Jim was able to open the door without even getting out of his seat. The two pilots seemed surprised that Sandy and the gunman had appeared quickly, as if they assumed she had been calling from the back of the plane.
Divivo’s mood lightened as soon as he stepped into the cockpit. He told Sandy to close the door, but she asked Wilbur if he wanted her to stay. The pilot said no, she should tend to the passengers. He and Jim would take things from here.
She closed the door and pivoted to face the cabin. Still trying to make sense of what was happening, she paused for a moment before reminding herself that she needed to carry on as usual, to avoid panicking the passengers.
As she headed to the back to update Christine and Arlene, a man stopped her. “Are we going to Cuba?” Al Cavalieri asked.
“Oh, no,” she replied reassuringly.
But standing with the other stewardesses, out of earshot from passengers, they discussed the likelihood that they were headed to Havana. If they had to stop in Boston to refuel, maybe they could also score some alcohol. On other hijacked flights, crews had used free-flowing booze to calm the nerves of passengers.
Preparing to land, the stewardesses dispersed, buckling themselves into scattered seats.
Then came the four gunshots from the cockpit.
Nothing in Sandy’s life had prepared her for this. I don’t know if I should go up there, she thought. But after a passenger’s prodding, she walked hesitantly to the cockpit. As she got closer, she could see the legs of a bloodied man on the floor. What if it was the pilot or the copilot? What if I find them both incapacitated? What will I do? She got closer.
The distance to the cockpit was a few dozen feet. It felt like the longest walk of her life.
Captain Wilbur turned to see a hippie with sunglasses resting on a large, hook-shaped nose. A medallion with a five-point star hung on a chain around his neck. He looked to be in his mid-20s, maybe 5 foot 8, and thin. He seemed a bit unsteady on his feet. Ordinarily, he would have been about as intimidating as a park-bench beatnik poet. But he was wielding a gun just inches from Wilbur’s face.
Wilbur had served five years in the Air Force after college, flying missions around the Middle East, Europe, and Africa. Although he’d never seen combat, he’d had enough weapons training to recognize a .38-caliber revolver when he saw one.
Like bank tellers in a stickup, pilots were trained to do what hijackers told them. Wilbur calmly asked, “What do you want?”
Divivo removed his sunglasses. He had glassy eyes and a scar on his left temple. “Man, I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” he said. “I’m all f ---ed up.”
Trying to calm Divivo, Wilbur invited him to sit down on the jump seat, though he remained standing. The pilot flicked on the overhead speaker so Divivo could hear the transmissions between them and the control tower.
The plane was about 20 miles from Boston, flying at an altitude of around 5,000 feet. A voice from Approach Control at Logan crackled, instructing Wilbur to begin his descent to 2,000 feet.
The pilot asked Divivo if it was OK if they stuck with the plan to land in Boston.
“No,” he said.
“Where would you like to go?” Wilbur asked.
Divivo seemed unsure. After a long pause, he said, “Fly east.”
Wilbur flashed Jim Hartley a knowing look. Although they’d been working together for just a couple of weeks, the two had already developed a good rhythm. Jim was an Army veteran who had been stationed in Hawaii, where he married an island girl. He worked as a truck driver and fireman before getting his pilot’s license. The marriage had produced a daughter and a son but ended in divorce. That experience had taken its toll. But the 30-year-old copilot had rebounded, marrying a nurse named Becky the previous year. Wilbur and his wife, who lived in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, had just played bridge with Jim and Becky, who lived in nearby Fort Lee. They’d had such a good time that they planned to get together again once the weekend rolled around.
The minute Wilbur began talking with the gunman, Jim had quietly used a transponder code to alert the control tower that they were being hijacked. Yet it wasn’t clear the message had gotten through. Now, Jim radioed the tower to notify them of their change in plans. “Eastern 1320,” Jim said, “we’re gonna take up a heading of east here for a while and go out over the water.”
“Do you have a problem?” the approach controller asked.
“Affirm,” Jim replied.
Wilbur banked right, away from Logan and out over the Atlantic. The pilot wondered what this gunman’s plan was, or if he even had one. “We don’t have a heck of a lot of fuel,” Wilbur said. “We can’t keep flying for long.”
That triggered a response from Divivo that stopped Wilbur cold. “Just fly east and let me know when we’re within two or three minutes of running out of fuel.”
This guy doesn’t want to be in Cuba, Wilbur realized. He wants to be six feet under. And he wants to take 70 people with him.
After flying east for several minutes, Wilbur tried to coax Divivo into changing his mind. “Do you mind if we turn back?” he gently asked.
Divivo seemed a bit distracted, but said, “OK.”
The plane was traveling about 180 miles per hour when it began making the wide 180-degree turn. Divivo was standing a bit behind his seat, in the center space between him and Jim, just slightly out of Wilbur’s peripheral vision.
Jim got on the radio again. “Eastern 1320, we’re heading back in now.”
As they were completing the turn, Divivo asked Wilbur, “Are we on our way in?”
Divivo fired his gun at Jim, throwing the copilot back in his seat.
As Wilbur turned, Divivo fired at him. Searing pain shot through both of Wilbur’s arms.
‘“Call the police — and an ambulance!” another pilot screamed over the radio. “The Eastern behind us, the copilot is shot! The copilot is shot!”’
What happened next shouldn’t have been possible. Jim was slumped in his seat. The bullet had entered near his left shoulder blade, puncturing his lung and then his aorta, before exiting his right armpit. His chest cavity was quickly filling with blood.
But now, somehow, he summoned the strength to pull himself up. He lunged at Divivo and wrested the gun from him. Jim aimed at Divivo’s chest and fired twice.
Divivo fell to the floor, his feet pushing open the cockpit door.
Jim collapsed back into his seat, the gun dropping from his hand. He stopped moving.
Wilbur grabbed the gun from the floor and placed it on the console in front of him.
He looked down to see blood pumping from his arms — Divivo’s bullet had torn through both of them. To his right, his copilot was unconscious. At his feet was a homicidal hijacker who began to moan, “I can’t even die.”
Wilbur needed to focus. He pushed the plane up to 288 miles per hour, nearly its top speed, and radioed Approach Control, on a frequency open to other pilots in the area. “You better get the police to the airport,” he said, “we just had, ah, the copilot is shot.”
There was no response. Wilbur repeated his appeal. “Get us in in a hurry, BOS.”
“I got you,” Approach Control finally replied. “Continue right inbound to the airport. You’re 13 miles [out].”
“Get an ambulance to the airport, also,” Wilbur said. He was thinking of Jim. He didn’t mention that he, too, had been shot.
The control tower didn’t seem to grasp how dire things were. Or maybe something got lost during the handoff from the approach controller, who directs incoming air traffic, to the tower controller, who directs landings. Less than two minutes later, when Wilbur was 6 miles out and closing in fast, the tower informed him that a small Mohawk aircraft was first in line to land.
It took the pilot of another jet on approach, American Airlines 380, to make the tower understand. “Call the police — and an ambulance!” the American pilot screamed. “The Eastern behind us, the copilot is shot! The copilot is shot!”
After the American pilot stressed, “Every second might count,” the tower hurriedly told the Mohawk to “Go around!” Now, Wilbur had an open path to bring the DC-9 in for a landing.
In the back of the plane, Arlene Albino repeatedly recited the Our Father prayer. I’m only 22. My life is over, she thought. There are so many things I wanted to do with my life. And the thing she wanted most, she now realized, was to get married and have children.
Arlene still lived with her Italian-American parents in Rutherford, New Jersey, but she had become a stewardess in part to free herself from the suffocating expectations to settle down. Her mother routinely read her the wedding and engagement announcements in the paper and exclaimed, “You’re prettier than her, and she’s getting married!”
A year and a half in the skies had surely widened Arlene’s horizons. Along the way, she learned that commercial airlines were selling romance almost as much as transportation, and young, attractive stewardesses were a major part of the pitch. Their job, she would say, was “to be every guy’s fantasy.” Raven-haired, with big eyes and a Mediterranean complexion, Arlene fit the part. But she soon learned how brutal the airlines could be in their casting: If a stewardess was even suspected of being pregnant, she’d be fired before her next flight.
What Arlene loved most about being part of this Newark-to-Boston crew was the professional tone set by Captain Bob Wilbur. He was movie-star handsome — he bore a resemblance to Henry Fonda — but wholesome, too, unlike the other pilots she’d had to fend off. She would never forget the one who, after a late flight, stepped into the hotel elevator with her and another stewardess. He pointed his thumb at one of them, then the other, and said, “Which one of you lucky ladies is going to sleep with me tonight?”
Arlene wasn’t interested in playing the field. For the last few months, she had been dating a man named Abelardo. A native of Cuba, he was handsome and charming. But she realized she hadn’t thought much about settling down until now.
The no smoking signs suddenly illuminated in the cabin. From the rear of the plane, Arlene couldn’t see much. Who’s in control? she wondered. Could it be the hijacker?
When she spotted a passenger standing up, her safety training kicked in. She rushed over to him, ordering him to sit down. Other passengers were dealing with the confusion and fear in their own way.
‘With his bloodied left hand, Wilbur reached for the gun he had placed on the console, transferring it to his bloodied right. He smashed the flat side of it against Divivo’s head, twice, yelling, “Get down, you bastard!”’
Manny Abrams, a 46-year-old businessman from Natick, was returning from a quick trip to Hackensack. He was an easy flyer, having served as a navigator on 30 combat missions against the Nazis, and had his nose buried in his Time magazine for most of the flight. Then he heard someone yell, “Those were gunshots!”
Howard Gavin, the 44-year-old vice president of the Hackensack chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, was headed to Boston for a union convention. Now, he cinched his seat belt tight and turned to his buddy. “Brother, we’re going right into the drink,” he said. “It’s been nice knowing you.”
Sitting near the front, Peggy Coyle, a 19-year-old freshman at Boston College, unlaced her boots. If the plane crashed in Boston Harbor, she figured she’d have a better chance swimming without them.
Al and Lloyd looked on with alarm at the feet sticking out through the open cockpit door. They prodded Sandy to check on the pilots.
After making her way up the aisle, Sandy peered into the cockpit. Looking to the right, she was horrified to see Jim slumped over in his copilot seat, eerily still. Looking down, she saw Divivo lying underneath the jump seat, moaning.
When she looked to the left, she saw Wilbur at the controls. He was bleeding from both arms, soaking the sleeves of his starched white shirt. But she couldn’t have been more relieved to find him in command.
“I’m all right,” he said.
From the front row of passengers came a shout, “We have a pilot!”
With a cockpit that felt cramped even holding just two pilots, the DC-9 was designed for short, frequent flights. In the five years since the first one had been pressed into service in 1965, it had become a popular workhorse for airlines. Still, flying it took skill and muscle.
About 2 miles from the runway, Wilbur was on his own. He used one arm to control the levers and the throttles, and the other to guide the nose steering wheel.
As Wilbur prepared to land, Divivo somehow managed to lift himself off the cockpit floor and get to his knees. He lunged at the pilot.
With his bloodied left hand, Wilbur reached for the gun he had placed on the console, transferring it to his bloodied right. He smashed the flat side of it against Divivo’s head, twice, yelling, “Get down, you bastard!” The gun grip shattered. The hijacker collapsed onto the floor.
Wilbur instructed Sandy to return to the cabin. He had to land this thing.
He didn’t have time for the customary gradual descent. Considering how fast he was coming in, it was remarkable how smooth the landing was — a point that many passengers would soon stress.
Once on the ground, he raced the plane toward the Eastern terminal. Ground Control told him to park it at Gate 12 — the farthest one from the runway.
As soon as he cut the engine, a swarm of State Police officers stormed onto the plane with guns drawn. They asked Wilbur if he was OK. “Take care of Jim!” Wilbur shouted. But to get to the copilot, they first needed to remove Divivo, whose body was blocking the cockpit door. As they grabbed the hijacker, he thrashed, “Don’t hurt my arm! Don’t hurt my arm!” The cops aggressively subdued him, dragging him off the plane.
Next, they removed Jim as carefully as they could. When he was off the plane, lying on a stretcher, his limp arm fell by his side. Three times, someone lifted it and gingerly placed it across his chest. Three times, it fell away from his body. After helping Wilbur off the plane, ambulance crews rushed the pilots to Massachusetts General Hospital. Police took Divivo there in a cruiser.
As Sandy was leaving the plane, she saw a bullet hole in the cockpit door, and then the spot near the first row of passengers where the bullet appeared to be lodged. She thought: An inch or two in the other direction, and a passenger would have surely been killed.
In a three-bedroom Cape in Fair Lawn, the phone rang. “Are you Mrs. Wilbur?” a male voice asked.
“Yes,” Anita Wilbur said.
“Is your husband Captain Wilbur?”
“Yes.” Anita’s impatience was growing. Her hands were full with her 2-year-old son, Robbie, who was sleeping, and her 4-year-old daughter, Allison, who woke with the ring of the phone. Nuisance calls like this one were exactly why she and Bob paid the phone company extra to have an unlisted number.
The man identified himself as a news reporter, from California. “Are you aware there was a hijacking?”
Just then, Anita’s mother, who was visiting from Scranton, Pennsylvania, called out from the living room where the TV was on. “Oh my God, an Eastern Airlines plane was hijacked!”
The doorbell rang. Anita’s mother answered it, letting in a man. Still on the phone, Anita recognized the visitor as an Eastern pilot who lived nearby. Before she got married, Anita had worked as an Eastern stewardess. She met Bob when she deadheaded on a flight to New Orleans, and he helped her get her heavy bag down from the overhead compartment. Instantly, she knew that Eastern had dispatched this company man to deliver bad news.
“Is your husband the captain or the copilot?” the reporter on the phone asked.
“The captain,” Anita replied, dread surging from her stomach to her throat.
“Oh, because the copilot was killed.”
Anita hung up on him.
Jim Hartley had been pronounced dead on arrival at Mass. General at 8:35 p.m. The medical examiner would later say he had died in the air, likely within a couple of minutes of Divivo shooting him. A single .38 slug had entered the copilot’s upper back, fracturing a rib and continuing through his left lung. When the bullet punctured his aorta, blood began pouring into his chest cavity. The bullet exited near his right armpit and grazed his bicep. The devastating power of a bullet fired at close range made Jim’s last-breath heroics all the more remarkable.
At the hospital, Wilbur and Divivo were initially treated in adjoining bays in the emergency room before being rushed into surgery.
Back at Logan, State Police shepherded the three stewardesses and dozens of passengers into a warren of rooms to interview them. For Arlene, seeing cops and airport employees wearing green ties and shamrocks was a jolting reminder that it was still Saint Patrick’s Day.
After giving his statement to police, and helping himself to a Chivas Regal nip from a cart that Eastern had wheeled into the room, Manny Abrams, the Natick businessman, stepped out of the secure area. There, he found himself facing the bright lights of news crews. He confidently fielded rapid-fire questions from the TV reporters whose faces he knew from the 11 o’clock news. It was only when he was driving home to Natick on the Mass. Pike that he felt his jaw begin to shake uncontrollably and a wave of panic wash over him. He had to pull over until it passed.
As it turned out, State Police allowed half the passengers to leave without asking them a single question — a decision that would infuriate FBI officials as soon as they got involved. Peggy Coyle was one of them. Bound for BC, she picked up her bag, hopped on the Blue Line, switched to the Green, and returned to her dorm room. She called her parents, whom she had been visiting in Jersey, to tell them what had happened. To her dismay, they acted as if she was exaggerating. It wasn’t until they read about the hijacking in the next day’s Star-Ledger that they realized Peggy had actually downplayed the drama.
Lloyd Pedersen and Al Cavalieri walked quietly out of the Eastern terminal, hopped in their cars, and each headed north on 93. When Lloyd made it home to Peabody, his wife opened the front door.
“What’s the matter?” she said. “You don’t look so good.”
“Just put on the TV,” he said. “You’ll find out.”
On the news, the nation was learning about Flight 1320, a ho-hum hop between Newark and Boston that had turned into something else: the first hijacked US flight to end in a fatality.
That made more urgent the question of who the hijacker was, and why in the world he had done what he’d done.
The first details to come in shed little light. John Joseph Divivo Jr. was a 27-year-old from a struggling family. He lived with his mother, a laundry service employee, and his younger siblings in a fifth-floor walk-up in a rough section of West New York, New Jersey, a town directly across the Hudson from Manhattan.
Divivo had long worked at Palisades Amusement Park, mostly seasonally, doing odd jobs. He had no criminal record — the closest he came was being questioned seven years earlier after buying a trumpet that appeared to have been stolen. Hardly the profile of a dangerous criminal.
Nonetheless, the FBI swooped in to take control of the Flight 1320 investigation, worried that Divivo might be part of a ring of terrorists. That’s when the feds ran into the brick wall of parochialism in Massachusetts law enforcement. The State Police refused to relinquish control, sparking a turf war that would soon make it to the desk of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.
While the higher-ups battled it out, Dick Davis, a 31-year-old plainclothes State Police detective assigned to Logan, got to work. When Flight 1320 landed, Dick had been at home with his wife and kids in Marshfield, celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day. By the time he pulled into the Eastern terminal that night, the pilot and hijacker were already at Mass. General.
‘Divivo was forever expounding on witchcraft, the lawyer remembered. He was such a self-described expert that the other teenagers took to calling him “The Professor,” or “Pro” for short.’
He headed straight to the plane, where a crime scene specialist was dusting for prints. Inside the cockpit, he found three pieces of a shattered firearm grip as well as a five-point-star medallion. There was blood everywhere — the floor, the seats, the console. The detective couldn’t get over the magnitude of what Bob Wilbur had managed to do.
At Divivo’s seat in the second to last row, the detective found the black Kodak camera case, a pack of Kools, and a deck of tarot cards. Against the window, a walking stick with a silver top.
On the rack above the seat, there was a blue winter coat. In its pockets, the detective found a $41.70 phone bill from New Jersey Bell, a card written out to “Professor John,” and a black and white photo of a marijuana plant growing in an open window. There were also five small “In Loving Memory” memorial cards for Divivo’s father, John Sr.
Police had sent his .38-caliber Colt revolver to ballistics for analysis. It was loaded with six rounds: four had been discharged, two were live. They had also recovered a nylon bag near Divivo’s seat containing an additional 34 rounds. A search of the gun’s serial number quickly showed it had been reported stolen the previous summer by Tom Brady, a part-time police officer in New Jersey. He told investigators he’d never heard of Divivo.
Detective Davis suspected there would be more clues in Divivo’s checked luggage. A pair of young women who were students at Endicott Junior College in Beverly told another investigator about a strange encounter they’d had with Divivo at Newark Airport.
Just before boarding Flight 1320, they approached a luggage cart. Divivo, wearing his sunglasses, asked them, “Is this where you put the baggage for the Boston shuttle?” The students weren’t sure, so they headed to the ticket counter to ask. When they returned, Divivo asked them the same question, as if for the first time. “I don’t want my baggage to go to the wrong place,” he said.
Inside Divivo’s suitcase, he had packed no clothes or toiletries. Instead, there were nearly a dozen occult books with titles like Witches and Sorcerers, Alchemy, The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology, The Tarot Revealed, and Satanism and Witchcraft. In addition, there was a 16-page file marked Astroflash. It contained astronomic and horoscope data for a person born on June 24, 1942, at 4:33 a.m. In other words, for John Joseph Divivo Jr.
When the lawyer in Denver got the call from Divivo’s family asking for help, nothing about the story made sense. Just 25 years old, Joe Saint-Veltri was beginning to make a name for himself in Colorado legal circles. But he had grown up in the same working class area of Jersey as Divivo, and he remembered him from the basketball court at the 50th Street Park in North Bergen. Divivo’s family remembered Saint-Veltri, too — they didn’t know who else to call.
Unlike Saint-Ventri, Divivo never played ball. He held a different kind of court. Divivo was forever expounding on witchcraft, the lawyer remembered. He was such a self-described expert that the other teenagers took to calling him “The Professor,” or “Pro” for short. Many had no idea what his real name was.
Although Divivo never made it past the ninth grade in school, he loved wordplay and struck Saint-Veltri as someone with high intelligence. He also seemed to enjoy being a curiosity. He was fixated on Halloween and would often dress in black capes and carry walking sticks with ornate knobs bearing satanic figures. Most people humored him when he waxed on about the occult. They paid closer attention when he spoke about having tried to commit suicide.
At 16, apparently distraught over a girl who rejected his interest, Divivo shot himself in the head. He was rushed to the hospital, where doctors left the bullet lodged in his left temple, concluding that attempting to remove it would risk brain injury. The failed suicide attempt left him with a slight limp and occasional slurred speech.
Sitting on the wall near the basketball hoops, Divivo would tell the others that he had “crossed over” after shooting himself. “I’ve been to the other side,” he would say, describing it as a void in the universe where all the dead were assembled.
Almost all of Saint-Veltri’s interactions with Divivo took place at the 50th Street court, though he once bumped into him at his job at the Palisades Amusement Park. When Saint-Veltri made a crack about the carny atmosphere of the place, Divivo replied: “All of life is a freak show. This is just one of the parts they charge you to see.” Saint-Veltri never forgot that.
On his flight from Denver to Boston, the lawyer struggled to reconcile the Divivo he remembered with the man now accused of this heinous crime. Divivo was an odd guy who could be dark and short-tempered, but there was also a sweetness to him. Saint-Veltri simply could not imagine Divivo ever being capable of the kind of mindless, extraordinary violence involved in killing a copilot and very nearly taking down a plane of innocent souls.
After Divivo’s successful surgery at Mass. General, Saint-Veltri went to see his client. The lawyer was careful not to ask him what had happened — he was sure the cops had wired the hospital room. Divivo seemed disconnected from what he had done. Saint-Veltri speculated that The Professor might have been under the influence of a powerful drug when he stepped onto Flight 1320. His goal became getting his friend, and now client, into a psychiatric hospital.
Meanwhile, federal and Massachusetts investigators had fanned out to interview Divivo’s friends and family. They learned about his thoughtfulness — how he was forever bringing small gifts to the children of acquaintances. They learned that he was friendly with many people but didn’t seem to be particularly close to anyone. He never seemed to have had a girlfriend.
They also learned that the day before the flight, he visited Palisades Park in a celebratory mood, handing out cigars. He brought a gift for his former boss’s child and roses for the man’s wife. He said he was moving to California to find work, but would be flying first to Boston to collect from a friend who owed him money. At 4:30 p.m. on Saint Patrick’s Day, he called a friend from a pay phone and tearfully told her he was heading to the airport. She gave him the names of some friends he could call when he got to California.
Yet back in his family’s fifth-floor walk-up, he had said nothing about his travel, telling one of his younger brothers only that he was headed to a party.
When investigators tracked down Divivo’s friend in Boston, she explained that she had worked with him at Palisades Park in the mid-60s and continued to correspond with him for several years after moving to Massachusetts. She stopped writing him toward the end of 1968, she said, because she was married, to a graduate student at MIT, and worried that Divivo could cause strain in her relationship. She mentioned his interest in witchcraft and described him as “vivacious” but “with a rapid change of mood — friendly with you one minute and the next minute an enemy.” She said he smoked marijuana, growing it in a window box at home, and told her he had experimented with LSD. He would occasionally grow despondent, she said. Sometimes, he mentioned suicide.
At Mass. General, the trauma surgeon was concerned. Dr. Ashby Moncure knew that Bob Wilbur had lost a lot of blood, and the spot where the bullet exited his right forearm could have damaged the tendons, possibly disabling his hand. That wound was gaping and ragged and would require skin grafts, from Wilbur’s thigh, to close it. In addition, the surgeon would need to work carefully on the other wound, on Wilbur’s left bicep, to extricate the bullet. Before surgery, Detective Dick Davis had asked Moncure to give him the bullet after removing it, so he could add it to the evidence.
During a break in surgery, Moncure found the detective and explained that the bullet had fractured into two pieces. He had been able to remove one of them, but he was concerned that if he dug any deeper into Wilbur’s bicep, he risked doing permanent damage.
“Don’t worry about it,” the detective said. The case wouldn’t lack for evidence.
Wilbur, who underwent several surgeries, celebrated his 36th birthday in his hospital room, and then Easter, too. He regained full use of both his arms and, after 28 days, he was discharged. Eastern Airlines sent him and his family on a 10-day vacation to Puerto Rico.
Wilbur received a flood of commendations, telegrams, and plaques, and Eastern named its new training center in memory of Jim Hartley. But every other indication suggested that Eastern — and the rest of the airline industry, for that matter — wanted to move past this incident as quickly as possible. Wilbur did, too. Shy and modest, he felt uncomfortable with the attention. Moreover, every mention of his cockpit heroics that spared the lives of 72 passengers and crew reminded him of the one life he had been unable to save.
As for the stewardesses — Sandy, Christine, and Arlene — Eastern gave them each a Distinguished Cabin Service Award. But the airline also stressed that, after a couple of weeks off to clear their heads, they were expected to be back in the air.
Sandy prayed she would never have to fly in the same plane as the one they had been on during Flight 1320. Each time she headed aboard a DC-9, she checked to make sure it wasn’t plane number 925.
Something uplifting came out of the tragedy for Arlene. After having been forced to recount the awful details from the hijacking, again and again, for a variety of investigators and airline officials, she had flown back to Newark, completely exhausted. When she landed, she found waiting on the tarmac her handsome Cuban boyfriend of three months, Abelardo. He asked for her hand in marriage. She didn’t hesitate to say yes.
Two days after the hijacking, on March 19, 1970, US Transportation Secretary John Volpe held hearings in Washington to discuss new security measures to prevent such a tragedy from happening again. Volpe, a former governor of Massachusetts, would also show up in Wilbur’s hospital room a week after the incident, news cameras in tow, to present him with an award. Volpe was especially struck by how much worse the disaster at Logan could have been, had it not been for Wilbur’s astounding grace under pressure. The United Nations announced it would convene a special meeting in Montreal to investigate possible solutions to air piracy.
In reality, it was no mystery what aviation officials needed to do. For years, experts had been calling on the airlines to put all passengers and their carry-ons through electronic screening before boarding. And for just as long, the airlines had refused, leveraging their enormous influence in Washington to block the measures.
Airlines had concluded that the cost of screening — both in terms of inconveniencing regular business travelers and scaring newer travelers — outweighed the safety benefits it would produce. The hijacking of Eastern Flight 1320 laid bare that false calculation.
Yet even in the face of this deadly skyjacking, the airlines continued to resist wholesale changes, at first accepting only half-measures. In 1970, the major airlines began a practice of screening for weapons, but only with passengers who matched a certain behavioral profile.
When Arlene Albino worked her first flight three weeks after the attack, as she was about to let the passengers on board, a guy in a business suit walked onto the plane. He was carrying what looked like a billy club, and it had a cutout in it housing a needle-gauge screen. “What’s that?” she asked.
“It’s a metal detector.” As passengers walked by him onto the plane, he waved the billy club over them.
Oh, my God, Arlene realized. They’re doing this because of what happened to us.
On September 11, 1970, following the Eastern skyjacking and others overseas, President Nixon announced a raft of new anti-hijacking efforts, including additional security personnel at airports and improved surveillance. A month later, Volpe announced a new permanent force of 2,000 sky marshals who would board select flights, undercover and armed.
However, the situation didn’t really improve until January 1973, when the Federal Aviation Administration mandated that the airlines screen all passengers and carry-on bags. The airlines complied, though they were careful to continue catering to their frequent-flyer businessmen. “At Los Angeles International Airport,” The New York Times reported, “22 young women outfitted in miniskirts were hired by American Airlines to examine bags and search passengers, drawing praise from many male travelers.” A month later, the United States and Cuba signed an extradition treaty for hijackers.
These substantive, if woefully belated, new security measures had a dramatic and immediate effect. While there had been 124 hijackings from 1968 to 1972, in all of 1973 there was one. The measures would represent the biggest change in airline security until another set of flights that were also connected to Newark and Boston: the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
By the fall of 1970, John Divivo was being held at Boston’s Charles Street Jail. After a lengthy psychiatric stay at Bridgewater State Hospital, he was now awaiting trial for the murder of Jim Hartley. The turf battle between Massachusetts and federal officials continued to rage, though local prosecutors were taking the first crack in court.
For Detective Dick Davis, six months after first interviewing Divivo, there was still something that didn’t quite add up. At Mass. General, a State Police trooper was stationed outside Divivo’s door around the clock. Logging one of those overnight shifts himself, Davis got to see nurses and other staff coming in and out of his room. Divivo was polite and friendly to every one of them. They responded in kind, with “Hi, John” or “Good luck, John.” The detective sensed that Divivo was a lost soul.
When Davis asked why he had shot Jim Hartley, Divivo said he wasn’t thinking clearly and had gotten spooked when the copilot seemed to move suddenly. When Davis asked why he had told Captain Wilbur to fly east until they were nearly out of fuel, Divivo insisted he had no plans to go through with mass murder. He was simply stalling, he said. He wanted to give enough time for the news crews to get to the airport, so that when he was taken away in handcuffs, he’d be guaranteed a big audience.
The more the detective had learned about Divivo’s family, the more he saw it as layered with dysfunction. Divivo’s father and namesake, whose memorial cards the detective had found, had died in prison. And when the detective had looked more closely at one of the cards, he noticed something significant about the day Divivo chose for the skyjacking: Divivo Sr. had died on March 17, 1968 — Saint Patrick’s Day.
There was one other possession of Divivo’s that Davis couldn’t get out of his mind. Inside his checked luggage, behind all those books about witchcraft and satanism, there was a wooden replica tombstone. Divivo had painted it with his name and “Pro” nickname.
“John, I guess you expect to live a long life,” Davis told him in his hospital room.
“What do you mean?” Divivo asked.
The detective showed Divivo a picture of the tombstone. “It says here you’re going to live to 2015.” Underneath his name, Divivo had printed his date of birth and then, in a nod to his favorite day, “Died: Oct. 31, 2015.”
“Oh yeah,” Divivo replied. “I gotta change that.”
Six months later, he did. Early on Halloween morning 1970, guards at the Charles Street Jail found Divivo hanging from a scarf in his cell.
EPILOGUE: The Years Since Eastern Airlines Flight 1320
Bob Wilbur Jr. continued flying for Eastern Airlines for another two decades. In 1990, not long after Eastern filed for bankruptcy, he became a pilot for Saudi Arabian Airlines. He retired four years later, at age 60. He and Anita live in Florida, where they will celebrate his 86th birthday on March 30. Their daughter, Allison, has two girls. Their son, Robert III, self-published a book last year about the hijacking called Reluctant Hero. He has a son, also named Robert.
Arlene Albino, when assigned to the same plane a few months after the hijacking, noticed someone had taped over the bullet hole near the bulkhead. She stopped flying in 1975, earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology, and eventually became a lawyer. She did marry Abelardo, though they divorced after nine years. In 1981, she married fellow lawyer Richard Ralph and had a daughter. She reconnected with the Wilburs a few years ago. “I had a life,” she says, “because of Bob.”
Sandy Saltzer says flying was no longer fun by the 1980s. She got her master’s degree in counseling and used that, combined with her nursing background, to work in a hospital cancer center outside Rochester, New York. She helped start a comfort care home for the terminally ill called the House of John.
Christine Peterson left Eastern after four years to work in medical offices and as a Mary Kay beauty consultant. She returned to her native Buffalo, New York, area, and had two sons. She died in 2004 after a long illness.
Lloyd Pedersen retired from GE in 1990. He continued to fly when he had to, “but I didn’t like it.” He would find himself looking closely at “anybody who looked the least bit suspicious.” He still lives in Peabody and just turned 93. His former GE colleague Al Cavalieri died in 2013 at the age of 91, leaving his wife and six children.
Peggy Coyle, now Peggy McLoughlin, is a longtime Wellesley librarian who lives in Newton. After the news of Captain Sully Sullenberger’s “Miracle on the Hudson” landing in 2009, she realized she would not have had a full life — now with four kids, two grandkids, and three step-children — had it not been for Wilbur. She tracked him down to thank him. She also got in touch with other passengers, including Manny Abrams, who is now 96 and continues to live in his house in Natick. They speak every Saint Patrick’s Day.
Dick Davis retired from the State Police at 50, which was the mandatory age at the time. He became a federal air marshal. The Flight 1320 investigation figures prominently in a scrapbook his late wife made of his most important cases. He continues to live in Marshfield.
Joe Saint-Veltri became a prominent attorney in Denver. He hadn’t thought much about Flight 1320 until the Miracle on the Hudson story and the Tom Hanks movie. Although Divivo was his client, Saint-Veltri remains in awe of Wilbur’s heroics. “It was astounding to me that the pilot was able to do what he did,” he says. “If they were ever going to make a movie about a heroic pilot, that pilot should be the one.”
Eastern Airlines filed for bankruptcy in 1989, and sold its Northeast shuttle service, for $365 million, to Donald Trump. That summer, the nose gear failed on a Trump Shuttle flight, forcing a crash-landing at Logan. Two years later, with the shuttle operation bleeding money, Trump gave up control of it. That same year, the rest of Eastern Airlines shut down for good.
Jim Hartley Jr. left behind a daughter, Debra, and a son, James III (who has since passed), in addition to his second wife. Granddaughter Dani Brown maintains a tribute Facebook page for the grandfather she never met. She learned more about him after connecting with Wilbur, who has visited his copilot’s gravesite in Florida. Wilbur calls Jim Hartley the true hero of Eastern Flight 1320.
Research Assistance from Jeremiah Manion of the Globe staff, and Globe correspondents Caleb Symons and Matt Mahoney. In addition to extensive interviews, sources include: FBI files and court records; Reluctant Hero by Robert M. Wilbur III; “Death in the Sky” by retired Eastern Captain JP Tristani; “An Economic Study of U.S. Aircraft Hijacking, 1961-1976” by William M. Landes in The Journal of Law & Economics; The Skies Belong to Us by Brendan I. Koerner; and the archives of The Boston Globe (including “Friends in High Places” by Adrian Walker”), the (North Jersey) Record, The New York Times, and the (New Jersey) Herald News.
Neil Swidey is the Globe Magazine's staff writer. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @neilswidey.