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TWA85: 'The world's longest and most spectacular hijacking'


At the high point of the 1960s spate of hijackings, a plane was held up on average once every six days in the United States. Fifty years ago this week, Raffaele Minichiello was responsible for the "longest and most spectacular" of them, as one report described it at the time. Could those on board ever forgive him?
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21 August 1962
Under the hills of southern Italy, a little north-east of Naples, a fault ruptured and the earth began shaking. Those living on the surface, in one of the most earthquake-prone parts of Europe, were used to this. The 6.1-magnitude quake in the early evening was enough to frighten everyone, but it was the two powerful aftershocks that did the most damage.
Twenty kilometres up from the epicentre and a few hundred metres north was where the Minichiello family lived, including 12-year-old Raffaele. By the time the third earthquake had subsided, their village of Melito Irpino was uninhabitable. The Minichiello family were left with nothing, Raffaele would later recall, and no-one in authority came to help.
The damage was such that almost the entire village was evacuated, razed and rebuilt. Many families would return, but the Minichiellos decided to move to the US for a better life.
What Raffaele Minichiello found instead was war, trauma and notoriety.
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01:30; 31 October 1969
Dressed in camouflage, Raffaele Minichiello stepped on to the plane, a $15.50 ticket from Los Angeles to San Francisco in his hand.
This was the last stop on Trans World Airlines flight 85's journey across the US, which had started several hours earlier in Baltimore before calling at St Louis and Kansas City.
The crew of three in the cockpit were helped by four young female flight attendants, most of whom had been in the job for only a few months. The most experienced was Charlene Delmonico, a bob-haired 23-year-old from Missouri who had been flying with the airline for three years. Delmonico had swapped shifts to fly on TWA85 as she wanted Halloween night free.
Before leaving Kansas City, captain Donald Cook, 31, had informed the flight attendants of a change in the usual practice: if they wanted to enter the cockpit, they were to ring a bell outside the door, and not knock.
The flight landed in Los Angeles late at night. Passengers disembarked and others, bleary-eyed, joined the short night flight to San Francisco. The lights were dimmed so that those who had stayed on board could continue sleeping. The flight attendants checked the passengers' tickets when they boarded quietly, but Delmonico paid particular attention to one of the new arrivals, especially his bag.
The tanned young man in camouflage, his wavy brown hair flattened, was nervous but polite as he boarded. A thin container protruded from his backpack.
Delmonico moved towards the first-class compartment, where her colleagues Tanya Novacoff and Roberta Johnson were guiding passengers to their seats. "What was that thing sticking out of the young man's backpack?" Delmonico asked them. The answer - a fishing rod - calmed her fears and she returned to the back of the plane.

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