Luis Soltren surrenders in 1968 hijacking of Pan Am 281

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Luis Armando Peña Soltren surrendered to United States law enforcement at 1:30 Sunday, at New York City's John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK).

John F. Kennedy International Airport, aerial view (1994)
Image: USGS.

Soltren had arrived on a flight from Havana, Cuba, where authorities say he has resided 41 years to avoid prosecution. Soltren is charged with air piracy and kidnapping, for allegedly participating in the November 24, 1968 hijacking of Pan Am Flight 281, which took off from JFK.

[Soltren] will finally face the American justice system that he has been evading for more than four decades.

—United States Attorney Preet Bharara

According to the December 1968 indictment against him, by then-United States Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau, Soltren conspired in the hijacking with Jose Rafael Rios Cruz, Miguel Castro and Alejandro Figueroa. Soltren, Cruz, and Castro seized control of the flight, originally destined for Puerto Rico, using guns and knives they had smuggled in a diaper bag. They forced the pilot to land at Havana instead. Such hijackings were frequent at the time, with 30 successful or attempted diversions to Cuba in 1968.

Cruz and Castro pled guilty in the 1970's, and received 15 and 12-year sentences, respectively. Figueroa was acquitted in 1969.

United States Attorney Preet Bharara announced that Soltren would "finally face the American justice system that he has been evading for more than four decades." Soltren reportedly arranged his return because he wanted to visit his wife, who lives in either Florida or Puerto Rico. He is expected to be arraigned Tuesday.