JFK hijacker arrested -- after 40 years hiding in Cuba
By BRUCE GOLDING and MURRAY WEISS
A notorious hijacker who helped commandeer a plane-load of terrified New York passengers to Havana 40 years ago — the FBI's longest wanted fugitive — surrendered and was hauled back to the US today, officials announced.
Luis Armando Peña Soltren, 66, and two other men had burst into the pilot’s cabin of Pan Am flight 281, which was flying from JFK Airport to Puerto Rico, on Nov. 24, 1968, and demanded that it be flown to Cuba, authorities said.
Prosecutors say Soltren, the two other men and a fourth accomplice, a woman, were armed to the teeth with guns and knives aboard the flight. The female accomplice had the weaponry and ammo stuffed in a diaper bag, they said.
Sources said Soltren was the last man to be brought to justice in the long-ago case.
“This is yet another example of how justice delayed is not justice denied,” FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Joseph Demarest. “It is an example of the principle that, for the FBI, fugitive cases don’t become closed cases until the fugitive is brought to justice.”
With a wife and two sons living in the United States, apparently in Florida or Puerto Rico, Soltren recently made it known to officials that he finally wanted to come home and face the music, the source said.
"He wanted to get this behind him," a source said.
The State Department arranged for security personnel to accompany Soltren early yesterday morning on a flight to Kennedy Airport.
He’ll be arraigned tomorrow; he’s being locked up at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, the source said.
"Luis Armando Peña Soltren will finally face the American justice system that he has been evading for more than four decades," said Preet Bharara, the Manhattan US Attorney.
"As the 1968 charges allege, he terrorized dozens of passengers when he and his cohorts wielded pistols and knives to hijack Pan American flight 281.
"The passage of time does not dull our resolve to bring fugitives like Peña Soltren to justice."
The other three people directly involved in the hijacking had been apprehended years ago — one was acquitted, and the other two were tried and convicted, sources said. They were sentenced to 15 years each and have since been released from prison, the sources added.
"This guy stayed in Cuba," the source said.
It’s not clear what he did during the ensuing years — or if his family was ever able to join him.
As US citizens, it would have been difficult though not impossible for a wife and children to travel to Havana.