TAA - Australia's first Hijacking
The Trans Australia Airlines hijacking was Australia's first Hijacking and arguably the first reported
Skyjacking/Hijacking in the world.
occurred on July 19, 1960 over the skies of Brisbane on Flight 408, the
last Sydney to Brisbane flight for the day, in a Trans Australia
Airlines Lockheed Electra VH-TLB.
First Officer, Tom Bennett overpowered the hijacker, Russian Alex Hildebrandt who was armed with a bomb, and a fully loaded sawn-off rifle and a spare fully loaded magazine. Forty three passengers and six crew were on board and at risk.
A T.A.A. captain, D.R.Lawrence, who was traveling as a passenger, assisted Tom to subdue and disarm the hijacker.
Tom Bennett was awarded the George Medal for his actions and Captain Lawrence was commended.
The crew consisted of Captain John Denton, First officer Tom R. Bennett, Flight Engineer Fred McDonald, Hostess Fay Strugnell and Hostess Janeene Christie. Hildebrandt had a sawn-off .22 calibre rifle and had suspended over a torch battery a bare wire attached to a detonator adjoining two sticks of gelignite.
Another wire was attached from the gelignite to the battery. Hildebrandt fired a shot, which went through the aircraft ceiling, narrowly missing First Officer Tom Bennett who punched Hildebrandt and pulled the wires from his hand and disabled the bomb. Captain Dennis Lawrence who was traveling as a passenger assisted in subduing the Hijacker.
Alex Hildebrandt who was born in Russia in 1938, faced serious charges of attempted murder of First Officer Tom Bennett, having an explosive detonating device with the intention of destroying the aircraft and having explosives capable of causing injuries to persons on board.
Hildebrandt was sentenced to three years jail for attempted murder,ten years for attempting to destroy the aircraft and two years for the explosives charge. He successfully appealed the sentence in the Queensland Criminal Court as he argued that the aircraft which was thirty five minutes into the flight, was over New South Wales when he armed the explosives in the aircraft toilet.
He served a three year sentence in Brisbane, for attempted murder and on discharge was arrested by detectives from New South Wales. He faced court again and was convicted on the charge of attempted destruction of an aircraft and he spent seven more years in prison in New South Wales.