Editorial Note

On March 24, 1950, crew members of three Czechoslovak domestic airliners, seeking political asylum outside Czechoslovakia, diverted their aircraft to a United States military airfield at Erding, near Munich, in the United States Zone of Occupation of Germany. Once in West Germany, 26 of the 85 Czechoslovak citizens aboard the three aircraft decided to seek asylum, while the remaining 58 were permitted to return to Czechoslovakia on March 28 after questioning. In separate notes of March 30 to the American Embassy, the Czechoslovak Foreign Ministry demanded the extradition of the eight Czechoslovak aircraft crewmen accused of planning and carrying out the escape “as common criminals for penal prosecution” and protested against the interrogation and general treatment of some of the passengers of the aircraft who chose to return to Czechoslovakia. On April 6, on instructions of the Department of State, the Embassy delivered a note to the Foreign Ministry rejecting the extradition demand and reaffirming the intention of the United States Government to continue to honor the right of political asylum. In a separate note of April 6 to the Foreign Ministry, the Embassy refuted the charges regarding the treatment of Czechoslovak passengers at Erding airfield, reviewed recent cases where Czechoslovak authorities had detained American citizens incommunicado for long periods of time, and indicated the hope that permission by American authorities for consular access to Czechoslovak citizens at Erding would be a precedent to be followed by Czechoslovak authorities in similar circumstances. For the texts of the exchanges of notes of March 30 and April 6, see Department of State Bulletin, April 17, 1950, pages 595–599.

In an eight-page note of April 25 to the Embassy in Praha, the text of which was published in the Czechoslovak press and read over the state radio, the Czechoslovak Foreign Ministry renewed its demand for the extradition of the Czechoslovak air crew members allegedly responsible for the diversion of the three aircraft to Erding airfield. In a note of April 27, the text of which was released to the press in Praha on April 28 and in Washington the following day, the American Embassy amplified its earlier description (the note of April 6) of the courteous and correct treatment of the Czechoslovak passengers aboard the planes diverted to Erding. On April 28, at the instruction [Page 544] of the Department of State, the Embassy presented to the Czechoslovak Foreign Ministry a note, the text of which was not made public, informing that the investigation of the Erding landings had been completed and that the three aircraft were available to the Czechoslovak Government for return as soon as appropriate arrangements were made. The note also asked, but did not demand, that the Czechoslovak Government publish the Embassy notes of April 6 and April 27 regarding the cooperation and hospitality accorded by the American authorities at Erding to Czechoslovak citizens and officials. Following the completion of necessary arrangements, the three Czechoslovak aircraft were flown from Erding to Czechoslovakia by Czech crews on May 3. Documentation on the notes and events described here is included in the Department of State archives in file 949.5262A.