296. Editorial Note

On May 1, 1961, National Airlines Flight 440 to Key West became the first American aircraft to be hijacked to Cuba. Three more American planes were seized during July and August. On September 5, 1961, P.L. 87–197 made it a crime to commit or attempt to commit air piracy. (U.S. Congress, House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Inter-American Affairs, Air Piracy in the Caribbean Area; Report Pursuant to H. Res. 179 (1968), page 4) After the law was passed, in the period September 1961–July 1967, two hijacking attempts were frustrated, two succeeded, and one plane was stolen and flown to Cuba. (Appendix A; ibid.)

Previous international prohibitions on the seizure of aircraft during transnational flights were stipulated in the Chicago Convention of 1944, which codified public international aviation law. To strengthen these measures, as early as 1950 the legal committee of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) began a study of the jurisdictional issues of crimes committed on board aircraft. The Tokyo Convention, completed by the committee in 1963, established a positive rule of law that awarded jurisdiction over offenses committed on board an aircraft to the State in which the aircraft was registered. The convention was signed by 29 nations but would not enter into force until 12 nations had ratified it. (Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968–69, Book II, pages 974–975) As late as the end of 1968, only seven nations—Denmark, Norway, Sweden, the Philippines, Portugal, the Republic of China, and Italy—were signatories. (Air Piracy in the Caribbean Area)

In August and September 1967 two Colombian planes were hijacked, followed by seizure of a Bahamian craft in November. In the United States, a small plane was hijacked on February 17, 1968. Four days later, a DC–8 with 102 passengers was hijacked to Cuba on a Chicago-to-Miami run. During March hijackers struck Colombian, Venezuelan, Mexican, and American aircraft.