Synopses & Reviews
In an America torn apart by the Vietnam War and the demise of sixties idealism, airplane hijackings were astonishingly routine. Over a five-year period starting in 1968, the desperate and disillusioned seized commercial jets nearly once a week, using guns, bombs, and jars of acid. Some hijackers wished to escape to foreign lands, where they imagined being hailed as heroes; others aimed to swap hostages for sacks of cash. Their criminal exploits mesmerized the country, never more so than when the young lovers at the heart of Brendan I. Koerner’s The Skies Belong to Us
pulled off the longest-distance hijacking in American history.
A shattered Army veteran and a mischievous party girl, Roger Holder and Cathy Kerkow commandeered Western Airlines Flight 701 as a vague protest against the war. Through a combination of savvy and dumb luck, the couple managed to flee across an ocean with a half-million dollars in ransom, a feat that made them notorious around the globe. Koerner spent four years chronicling this madcap tale, which involves a cast of characters ranging from exiled Black Panthers to African despots to French movie stars. He combed through over 4,000 declassified documents and interviewed scores of key figures in the drama—including one of the hijackers, whom Koerner discovered living in total obscurity. Yet The Skies Belong to Us is more than just an enthralling yarn about a spectacular heist and its bittersweet, decades-long aftermath. It is also a psychological portrait of America at its most turbulent, and a testament to the madness that can grip a nation when politics fail.
"Although Koerner (Now the Hell Will Start), a contributing editor at Wired, had access to only one of the two hijackers whose 1972 commandeering of a U.S. airliner he recounts here in thrilling detail, he makes the mistake of sharing the other's thoughts, a dramatization that blurs the line between nonfiction and fiction. The book opens with a gripping scene: a stewardess aboard Western Airlines Flight 701, en route from Los Angeles to Seattle, is approached by a passenger she had spilled something on earlier. But rather than complain about his stained clothing, Roger Holder, a Vietnam veteran protesting the war, hands her a note claiming that four men with bombs and guns are aboard. The narrative then shifts back in time to provide a fascinating look at the history of skyjacking from 1968-1973, a plane was hijacked almost every week and efforts to thwart it, replete with offbeat details like the suggestion that all passengers be forced to don boxing gloves upon entering aircraft to preclude them from being able to hold or fire guns. The odyssey of Holder's life before and after his act of terror, aided by his lover, Cathy Kerkow, makes for compelling reading, though carelessness about speculation is a minus. 8 b&w photos. Agent: ZoÃ« Pagnamenta, the Pagnamenta Agency. (June)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
BRENDAN I. KOERNER is a contributing editor at Wired and the author of Now the Hell Will Start, which was optioned by filmmaker Spike Lee. A former columnist for both The New York Times and Slate, he was named one of Columbia Journalism Review’s “Ten Young Writers on the Rise." Visit www.theskiesbelongto.us and follow him at @brendankoerner.
Table of Contents
1. “Keep Smiling” 3
2. Coos Bay 12
3. “I Don’t Want to Be an American Anymore” 35
4. Sweet Black Angel 58
5. “I’m Here and I Exist” 67
6. Operation Sisyphus 86
7. “There Are Weathermen Among You” 105
8. “Can’t You Get a Chopper?” 126
9. “It’s All a Lie” 136
10. The Choice 144
11. “We Are Going to Be Friends” 160
12. “My Only Bomb Is My Human Heart” 171
13. “How Do You Resign from a Revolution?” 189
14. “The Olympics Wasn’t Anything” 203
15. “Monsieur Lecanuet, Anyone Can Steal . . .” 216
16. Omega 234
17. Tweety Bird 243
18. Erased 261