NEW YORK — Zvonko Busic, a Croatian nationalist who used fake explosives in 1976 to hijack a Trans World Airlines flight out of La Guardia Airport in New York and planted a real bomb beneath Grand Central Terminal that killed a police officer, was found dead at his home in Rovanjska, Croatia, on Sunday. He was 67.
Croatian news reports said Mr. Busic shot himself. His American-born wife, Julienne Eden Busic, found his body and a suicide note, the reports said.
Hijackings for political reasons were not uncommon in the 1960s and 1970s, but Mr. Busic’s seizure of TWA Flight 355 — an ordeal that ended in Paris 30 hours later — was the first involving a US domestic flight after strict security measures were introduced at airports in the United States in 1972.
Mr. Busic, who was 30 at the time and living in Manhattan, said he wanted to draw attention to Croatia’s struggle for independence from Tito’s Yugoslavia.
He and his wife, as well as three Croatian coconspirators who had also been living in the United States, boarded the flight on the evening of Friday, Sept. 10. The plane, a Boeing 727, was carrying more than 80 passengers and crewmembers bound for Chicago.
At about 8 p.m., as the plane soared over Buffalo, Mr. Busic handed a note to a flight attendant, who delivered it to the pilot. The note said he and his coconspirators had five bombs on board and were commandeering the plane and that another had been planted in a subway station locker under Grand Central.
The hijackers wanted a long declaration of Croatian independence to run in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and International Herald Tribune in Paris. They also wanted authorities to drop leaflets printed with the declaration over London, Paris, Montreal, Chicago, and New York.
Their demands were largely met: All the newspapers except The Herald Tribune printed the declaration, and leaflets fluttered over all five cities.
But what the hijackers had displayed as one of their bombs was actually a metal pot with wires and clay cobbled together. The hijackers had smuggled the components through security and assembled them onboard. Only the one below Grand Central was real, as the New York City police discovered after being directed there while the hijacking was in progress.
In his note, Mr. Busic explained where the bomb was hidden and how to remove it safely. He never intended to detonate it; it was a ruse, to convince the authorities that he had real bombs on the plane.
The police officers took the device to a bomb squad demolition range in the Bronx. There, as officers tried to defuse the bomb, it detonated, killing Officer Brian J. Murray, partly blinding Sergeant Terrence McTigue, and wounding Officer Hank Dworkin and Deputy Inspector Fritz O. Behr.
Meanwhile, the plane was heading for Europe under the escort of a Boeing 707, making four stops to refuel; the 727 was not designed for trans-Atlantic flight. In one stop, in Gander, Newfoundland, 35 hostages were released.
The French government allowed the plane to land in Paris when it became low on fuel. Surrounding it at Charles de Gaulle airport, the French police shot out its wheels during a 12-hour standoff that ended with the hijackers’ surrender at 8 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 12. None of the hostages were harmed.
“I wish them well,” one passenger, Warren Benson, told The New York Times. “They had nothing against us, but wanted only to get a story across. They were concerned for our welfare, and we were treated well during most of it.”
Returned to New York, the hijackers were charged with air piracy resulting in a death and conspiracy. Croatian partisans helped pay for their defense, and the defendants had $4,000 converted into a trust fund for Murray’s two young children. His widow, Kathleen Murray, later said that she regretted accepting it.
All five were convicted in 1977. Mr. Busic and his wife received mandatory life sentences, while the others — Frane Pesut, Petar Matanic, and Mark Vlasic — got 30-year sentences.
“I did not do this act out of adventuristic or terroristic impulses,” Mr. Busic told the court after being sentenced. “It was simply the scream of a disenfranchised and persecuted man.”
He also expressed regret. “If I had ever imagined that anyone could have been hurt,” he said, “I would never, even if it had cost me anonymous death at Yugoslav hands, embarked on that flight.”
In April 1987, Mr. Busic escaped from a federal prison in Orange County, N.Y., by digging under a perimeter fence. Guards found a dummy in his bunk that Mr. Busic had camouflaged with his shorn beard. He made it as far as Milford, Pa., about 18 miles away, before a police officer apprehended him as he rested on a store’s back porch. “He seemed very intelligent and articulate, basically a very gentle man,” said the officer, Donald Quick. “He was just worn out.”
Croatia declared itself a sovereign nation in 1991, and Mr. Busic was paroled in 2008 for good behavior and returned there. His release outraged many, including the New York City police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly. “Anybody who kills a police officer should not be paroled,” Kelly said.
Zvonko Busic was born in Gorica, a village in Herzegovina. He met Julienne Eden Schultz, a multilingual nurse from Oregon, in Vienna in 1969. They married and moved to the United States, eventually settling on West 76th Street in Manhattan. Mr. Busic worked occasionally as a waiter.
Julienne Busic was paroled in 1989. She wrote a memoir, “Lovers and Madmen: A True Story of Passion, Politics and Air Piracy” (2009), which was made into a documentary film. Information about other survivors was not available.
Mr. Busic was active in politics after he returned to Croatia. On Wednesday, in Zagreb, the capital, prominent Croatian politicians joined hundreds of others in giving him a hero’s funeral.