In The Skies Belong to Us, author Brendan I. Koerner tells the amazing story of the longest-distance hijacking in U.S. history
Brendan I. Koerner paints a portrait of two young lovers whose criminal exploits mesmerized a nation awash in chaos.
Brendan I. Koerner
- Imprint: Crown Publishers
- On sale: June 18, 2013
- Price: $26.00
- Pages: 336
- ISBN: 9780307886101
“Brendan I. Koerner has meticulously reconstructed one of the maddest and most fascinating crime stories in American history. The result is a riveting and illuminating book that will hold you in its spell.”
—David Grann, author of The Lost City of Z
“Brendan I. Koerner has turned an odd, nearly forgotten aerial-hijacking episode into an astonishing, hilarious, and unputdownable true-crime narrative. I had no idea that any story could connect the Eldridge Cleaver of the sixties with the TSA miseries of today’s air travel, but The Skies Belong to Us does that and much more. This is a marvelously entertaining, instructive, and humane book.”
—James Fallows, National Correspondent for The Atlantic and author of China Airborne
“A thrill ride through the turbulent times when airline hijackings were a weekly occurrence, The Skies Belong to Us is true-crime writing at its best. Fast-paced and hard to put down, Brendan I. Koerner’s historical page-turner artfully reconstructs one of the most astonishing skyjackings of the Vietnam War era while telling a larger story of politics, money, and how air travel became what it is today.”
—Nick Turse, author of Kill Anything That Moves
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Hijacking wasn’t invented on 9/11. In fact, between 1968 and 1972, a plane was hijacked in America nearly every other week. These hijackers weren’t terrorists or fundamentalists, but rather ordinary Americans who used the skies to vent their rage at what seemed to be a country gone mad. Yet even at a time when such events were commonplace, the hijacking pulled off by Roger Holder and Cathy Kerkow stood out for its audacity, making them notorious around the globe and ushering in a new, more outrageous phase in the criminal epidemic. In THE SKIES BELONG TO US: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking (on sale June 18), Brendan I. Koerner tells the story of the troubled ex-soldier and the mischievous party girl who together pulled off the longest-distance skyjacking in American history. At the same time, Koerner illuminates the larger narrative of our country’s skyjacking crisis, which spiraled out of control as self-serving politicians dragged their heels.
“There is an absorbing tale to tell about each of the forty American skyjackers who made 1972 such a perilous year to fly,” says Koerner. “But none is as captivating as that of young lovers Holder and Kerkow, who—through a combination of savvy and dumb luck—managed to wildly succeed where so many of their hijacking peers had failed.”
On June 2, 1972, traumatized Vietnam vet Roger Holder and fun-loving masseuse-with-benefits Cathy Kerkow hijacked Western Airlines Flight 701 as it approached Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Their ambitious plan was to swap the plane’s passengers for the radical icon Angela Davis, who was on trial for murder in San Jose, and then to escape to Hanoi. But through a series of bizarre accidents, Holder and Kerkow instead wound up in Algiers with $500,000 in ransom ($2.6 million in today’s money), and the eyes of the world upon them.
The couple’s triumphant arrival in North Africa was merely the beginning of their grand adventure. In Algiers, Holder and Kerkow joined a commune of exiled Black Panthers headed by the notorious Eldridge Cleaver, whose megalomania would soon endanger the skyjackers’ lives. They later escaped to Paris, where they hobnobbed with artists, aristocrats, and an aged Jean-Paul Sartre. But at the very height of their celebrity, Kerkow vanished during a holiday in Switzerland. And that’s when the couple’s story starts to get truly strange. . .
Yet THE SKIES BELONG TO US is far more than just an incredible true-crime yarn. It is also a richly detailed history of America’s forgotten skyjacking epidemic (there were many days when, by coincidence, two planes were hijacked simultaneously), and of the naïveté of the airlines and politicians who were supposed to be safeguarding the skies. Focusing on the cultural and historical moment of the early 1970s, Koerner reveals that what appeared at the time to be random and shocking acts of violence were actually X-rays of the American political psyche. Further, he explains precisely how and why skyjacking evolved from petty nuisance to dire threat, and examines our eventual triumph over the early-seventies skyjacking wave and how aviation security evolved into its present form.
Koerner spent four years researching THE SKIES BELONG TO US, logging thousands of miles in search of eyewitnesses to this lost piece of history. He studied more than four thousand declassified FBI and FAA documents and interviewed scores of key figures in the drama, including former hostages from Flight 701, airline employees, retired federal agents, and even Holder himself, whom he found living in obscurity in San Diego.
Rich in atmosphere, darkly humorous, and tautly told, THE SKIES BELONG TO US brings to life a nearly perfect crime that history has seemingly forgotten. In the process, it re-creates an era so different from our current reality that it’s nearly impossible to imagine.
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 him at www.microkhan.com or www.theskiesbelongto.us.