Fear of Flying, Criminal Acts,
and Aerial Mayhem

The AirSafe Journal
vol. 1 num. 4 - 23 August 1996
(Revised 27 May 2000)


Fear is something most passengers must face as they develop a relationship with air travel, and I am no exception. Like many other sometime fearful flyers, I have my ways of coping. Also this week, some interesting statistics on criminal acts against aviation that may increase your anxiety level. Finally, a factual account of an attempted hijacking of a Federal Express cargo jet. As usual, you can mail any comments or questions to AirSafe.com.


Fear of Flying, A Personal Story
As an airline safety analyst, I have had the opportunity to reveiw thousands of accident and incident reports involving aircraft of every description. The one thing that amazes me still is the number of ways that things can go wrong. No one has invented all the ways that people and aircraft can combine to produce wrecked airplanes and all the human misery that accompanies accidents. Given what I know, it would not surprise you to learn that I am not comfortable with the idea of being a passenger in an aircraft. There are times when I have to deal with intense but brief feelings of fear, fear that is caused not by the fact that I am in an airplane, but by the fact that I am not in control of the airplane.

While I was in college, I learned to fly a small airplane. In spite of turbulence, unpredictable weather, and at least one gross error of judgment, I survived the summer and completed most of the requirements for my first license. I also developed a strong desire to be in control while flying in an airplane. In spite of the fact that I was a novice pilot, I was much more comfortable flying than I was letting someone else do it for me. As the years past and my knowledge of flying and of aircraft grew, flying as an airline passenger became a much more nerve wracking experience. I understood intellectually what the aircraft should have been doing at any given time, but emotionally I felt helpless because I was not involved with flying the aircraft.

As a result of my feelings of helplessness, I have become a somewhat nervous flyer. My favorite method of countering those feelings has been complete denial. When I am flying, I ignore the fact that I am in a machine traveling faster than a speeding bullet seven miles above the ground. Instead, I consider the aircraft cabin to be a large living room, one that is too loud, too cramped, and too filled with strangers I don't care to know. For the most part, my denial of reality works quite well. However, the fear is always lurking in the shadows of my mind, ready to become an unwelcome and unpleasant seatmate after every unexpected jolt or bit of turbulence.

Recommended Fear of Flying Courses
Licensed therapist and airline pilot Captain Tom Bunn offers a variety of courses that can help you deal with the stress and anxiety that comes with a fear of flying.

Criminal Acts Against Civil Aviation
The U.S. Department of Transportation publishes hundreds of documents every year on various transportation issues. One of the more frightening ones is the FAA Office of Civil Aviation Security document Criminal Acts Against Civil Aviation. It is an annual report produced since 1986 and is a compilation of criminal incidents against civil aviation aircraft and interests world wide. The latest copy in my local Federal Depository Library was for 1994, and it contained a variety of interesting and perhaps unsettling facts about acts of violence in the world of civil aviation. Some of the more notable ones are summarized below.

Key Statistics for the Five Year Period 1990-1994
  • Worldwide Jet Airliner Hijackings: 128
  • U.S. Jet Airliner Hijackings: 2
  • Bomb Threats against U.S. Aircraft: 1,407 (5.4 per week)
  • Bomb Threats against U.S. Airports: 1,688 (6.5 per week)
  • WorldwideFatalities due to Explosions on Air Carrier Aircraft: 22
Back to Contents for this Issue

If I Had a Hammer - The Federal Express Case
Also included in Criminal Acts Against Civil Aviation is a case that the FAA did not include among the other criminal acts. The FAA document and news reports on the incident paint the following picture if this April 7, 1994 event. Auburn Calloway, an off duty Federal Express second officer, was riding in a courier seat outside the cockpit of a Federal Express DC-10. Calloway was the lone passenger on this Memphis to San Jose flight. Shortly after takeoff, Calloway entered the flight deck and attacked the crew with a pair of hammers. During the ensuing bloody struggle, the first officer and flight engineer were able to force Calloway out of the cockpit while the captain put the aircraft through a series of extreme dives and turns in an effort to knock Calloway off balance. For a short time, the aircraft was on autopilot as the crew attempted to get Calloway out of the cockpit. The captain was able to return the aircraft safely to Memphis while the other two crew members continued the struggle all the way to the ground. All of the occupants were injured, and only the captain escaped serious injury.

The attack was apparently planned. Calloway also had other weapons - a spear gun, a hunting knife, and two other hammers - on the aircraft. There was also a note that indicated that Calloway intended to commit suicide. Calloway's attack also occurred one day before a scheduled personnel hearing with his superiors, reportedly concerning allegations of false information on his job application. Calloway is currently a long term resident of a federal corrections facility.

Back to Contents for this Issue

The AirSafe Journal - Issue 4
http://airsafe.com/journal/issue4.htm -- Revised: 24 May 2015