More than four decades after he allegedly hijacked a jetliner from a New York airport to Cuba, Luis Armando Pena Soltren voluntarily returned to the same airport to surrender and face prosecution, authorities said Monday.
Pena Soltren, who was arrested Sunday at John F. Kennedy International Airport after arriving on a flight from Havana, was expected to be arraigned Tuesday in Manhattan on a 1968 indictment. The Cuban government authorized his departure, authorities said Monday.
Pena Soltren, a U.S. citizen, and two accomplices used weapons hidden in a diaper bag to hijack the Pan Am flight on Nov. 24, 1968, authorities said.
"As the 1968 charges allege, he terrorized dozens of passengers when he and his cohorts wielded pistols and knives to hijack Pan American Flight 281," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement Sunday.
Pena Soltren, 66, had arranged his return with the FBI and State Department because he wanted to see his wife and other family members, who lived in either Florida or Puerto Rico, a U.S. Caribbean territory, an FBI spokesman told The New York Times. Authorities would not elaborate on other details of his surrender, including whether he had any relatives in the New York area. The FBI did not immediately return a telephone call Monday.
The FBI and federal prosecutors said in a joint statement Monday that it was made clear to Pena Soltren by U.S. authorities that he would be arrested and prosecuted when he returned to the United States.
They said the Cuban government authorized his departure from Cuba and was aware of his desire to return voluntarily.
Dozens of U.S. flights were hijacked and diverted to Cuba in the 1960s. Some of the flights were hijacked by self-described radical leftists, fugitives seeking asylum on the Caribbean island or criminals scheming to extort money from the U.S. government or the airlines.
Pan Am Flight 281 was commandeered by three men who forced their way into the cabin and ordered the crew to fly to the Cuban capital, according to a criminal complaint. Weapons and ammunition were sneaked onto the flight in the diaper bag, the court papers said.
Two of the men were arrested in the mid-1970s and pleaded guilty to their roles in the skyjacking, prosecutors said.
Another man, who was not on the flight but was described in the complaint as a leader of the Puerto Rican Movement for Liberation, was indicted in the hijacking. He was found not guilty on all charges.