The former U.S. ambassador to Guinea-Bissau says an American fugitive who conducted a brazen 1970s plane hijacking lived openly in the African nation during the 1980s under his real name.
Retired Ambassador John Blacken tells The Associated Press that George Wright -- captured this week in Portugal -- went by his real name when he was living in the former Portuguese colony of Guinea-Bissau. He says the embassy did not know Wright was a fugitive.
Blacken said Thursday that embassy officials would have taken action if they had known Wright had escaped from jail while serving time for murder, and was wanted in the case of the jet hijacked to Algeria in 1972.
Neighbors of the convicted killer who escaped a New Jersey prison in 1970, then allegedly hijacked a U.S. airliner two years later, told The Associated Press that the fugitive also lived in an idyllic Portuguese hamlet near a beautiful beach, married a Portuguese woman and has two children in their 20s.
They say 68-year-old George Wright worked odd jobs around Almocageme and was most recently employed as a bouncer at a nightclub. The neighbors spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared being ostracized for speaking out about Wright.
The two neighbors said Wednesday that Wright spoke very good Portuguese.
Back in 1962, Wright and three others were involved in a string of armed robberies that lead to the shooting death of a gas station owner in Wall, N.J., an FBI statement read.
He was promptly arrested and entered a plea of “no defense” to the murder charge. He was sentenced to 15 to 30 years in prison. Eight years later, he and three other men escaped from the Bayside State Prison in Leesburg, N.J., the statement read.
In 1972, Wright, along with five adults and three children allegedly hijacked a Delta flight from Detroit to Miami. After they released the passengers in exchange for a $1 million ransom, the hijackers forced the plane to fly to Boston, refueled and picked up another pilot for the long flight to Algeria where they sought asylum, the statement read.
A fingerprint on a Portuguese ID card was the break that led a U.S. fugitive task force to Wright, who was arrested by Portuguese authorities and is being detained in Lisbon.
He was taken into custody Monday at the request of the U.S. government. A fugitive task force had been searching for him for nearly a decade. He convicted of a 1962 murder in New Jersey.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.