A fugitive who escaped justice for 40 years after hijacking a US flight and diverted it to Cuba has pleaded guilty to kidnapping and aircraft piracy. Luis Armando Peña Soltren, 67, boarded the Puerto Rico-bound plane in New York in 1968 with a pistol and a knife. After he and an accomplice threatened the flight crew, the plane landed in Havana, where he remained for 41 years. Peña Soltren, a US citizen, returned in October to New York, where he surrendered to authorities. He is due to be sentenced in June.
“On November 24, 1968, I participated in a conspiracy to kidnap an airplane headed to Havana, Cuba,” Peña Soltren told a US district judge in New York, through a Spanish interpreter. He said he started the hijacking by holding a knife to the throat of a flight attendant. “I told him this was an air jacking and I told him I needed him to open the door to the cabin,” Peña Soltren said. He said his accomplice held a gun to the back of the co-pilot as the crew steered the plane to Havana. The guns, knives and ammunition had been concealed in a bag of diapers when the men boarded the flight at John F Kennedy Airport.
His two accomplices, José Rafael Ríos Cruz and Miguel Castro, were sentenced to jail terms of 15 and 12 years respectively after they were arrested on return to the US in the 1970s. In the 1960s and early 1970s, dozens of US planes were hijacked to Cuba as the Cold War with Cuban leader Fidel Castro intensified.
Peña Soltren’s lawyer, James Neuman, said in an interview that his client carried out the hijacking in a desperate bid to get to Cuba to see his father, who was hospitalized. He said his client had decided to return was because he was “profoundly remorseful”.
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Image: In an Associated Press artist sketch, Peña Soltren listens during his hearing on hijacking charges at U.S. Federal Court in New York, Tuesday Oct. 13, 2009.