Miami hijacking suspect arrested
By ANDY ROSENBLATT
And, MICHAEL H. COTTMAN
Herald Staff Writers
An 11-year-old FBI manhunt ended Sunday with the arrest of one of two men accused of forcing a Chalk's International Airline seaplane to fly from its Miami base to Cuba after seriously wounding two crew members.
Joseph Terron Bennett was arrested by agents at a Des Moines, Iowa, hotel where he had been working under an assumed name, the FBI announced Sunday.
Bennett, 35, a one-time Chicago resident, was booked into an Iowa jail in lieu of a $500,000 bond and is awaiting extradition to Miami, where he faces an indictment on air piracy charges. The indictment was returned by a federal grand jury in 1972 and will be unsealed today.
Bennett and James William Brewton, a member of the Black Liberation Army, are believed responsible for the wild hijacking of a Chalk's "Mallard" seaplane on March 7, 1972, that resulted in the wounding of two crew members and the abduction of the plane's five passengers and a copilot. Just before the airplane took off, one passenger and a copilot were able to jump to safety.
Bennett and Brewton allegedly hijacked the plane while it was being refueled at Chalk's Watson Island air station. The plane was supposed to fly to Bimini, 50 miles away. When the plane arrived in Havana, a journey twice as long, its gas gauge was on empty.
"I'm glad to hear [of the arrest]," said Douglas MacKenzie, a Chalk's mechanic wounded during the hijacking. "Once in a while something good happens."
MacKenzie was wounded after he pulled a .25-caliber revolver from his car and was preparing to shoot out the plane's 12-ply tires.
Pilot John M. Cothron was shot three times and thrown out of the cockpit after Bennett and Brewton allegedly told him to start the engines and head for Cuba.
"Cothron tried to get out of the pilot's seat. He said, gun or no gun, he wasn't going to fly to Cuba. That's when they shot him," MacKenzie recalled. "He was that kind of guy."
The hijackers then shot up the cockpit and forced copilot Bob Wallis to fly them to Havana. Wallis taxied along the takeoff ramp, bumping into a smaller Grumman Goose seaplane parked beside it. It was Wallis' first solo flight in a seaplane.
The flight took just under two hours. While in the air, one of the hijackers held a gun to the copilot's head while the other read the newspaper, offering the sports section to a nervous passenger who refused it.
Cuban authorities allowed Wallis, the passengers and the plane to return to Miami the next day. The two hijackers were arrested.
MacKenzie and Cothron recovered from their wounds and returned to the airline, although Cothron later moved to New England.
Brewton, who was wanted for the shooting of a police officer in Carbondale, Ill., before the hijacking, was later released by Cuban authorities. He migrated to Jamaica where he was killed in 1975 during an armed robbery attempt.
Bennett stayed in Cuba, was arrested rested and jailed on unrelated charges and secretly returned to the United States last year.
The FBI said Sunday that Bennett refused to give agents his real name and was identified through fingerprints.
"If I had my way," said MacKenzie who was shot twice in the chest during the hijacking, "I'd take this guy out over the Gulf of Mexico, open the [airplane] door and say, 'OK, go for a walk.' That's the way I took at hijackers. They put too many people's lives in danger don't care who they are or what kind of reason they have. I have no sympathy for them."