|By Dick Blizzard|
August 23, 2011
Captain Doug Lofton and his copilot, Fred Jones, are busy running the check-list in a Douglas DC-9. It is dark out on the ramp, but the dawn is breaking. There is a tug attached to the nose wheel, preparing to push the twin engine Delta passenger jet back from the terminal building for departure. The passenger loading door is open and the loading bridge (jetway) is attached. The cockpit door is ajar, awaiting final paperwork from operations.
It was the early 70’s. At that time the BWI terminal building lay-out required that several security check points be set up. The security passenger search was preformed right at the loading gates. They had an armed officer at each position.Click for large version
Photo © Curt Sieloff
Passengers are finding their seats and stowing their carry-on bags when all hell breaks loose.
An enraged man approaches the security point. He unceremoniously and without warning, shoots and kills the armed officer – didn’t even say “good morning”.
The madman races down the jetway and enters the aircraft. He closes and locks the passenger entrance door. He is excited and determined to get the aircraft airborne and then crash into a building in nearby Washington - guess which building. The desperate man orders the captain at gun point to get the aircraft into the air.
A uniformed officer is lying in a pool of blood on the floor just inside the terminal, so the crazed man knows they are coming for him.
Captain Lofton is known for not being cooperative when confronted, but this time he is simply telling the truth. “The cargo doors are open and there is a tug attached to the nose wheel - we can’t back out of here!” Doug explains.
Captain Lofton does not know that an officer just inside the building has already been shot in the head and killed.
The gunman promptly shoots the copilot in the head at close range.
Still there is no way to move the aircraft. Desperation grows in the hijacker. He repeats his demand four times. Each time Doug tries to explain why they cannot move; he is shot. With four bullets in his body, Doug slumps in his seat. He is bleeding badly, but miraculously, he is still conscious. The want-to-be hijacker leaves the cockpit feeling defeated. He squats on the floor behind the incapacitated pilots. His position is just across from the locked passenger entrance door.
During the commotion the flight attendants have ordered the passengers out through the emergency exit window and onto the wing; except for one ‘little old lady’. She is safely out on the wing, when she decides to return to get her package from the forward closet.
The wounded captain can hear the disturbed man weeping just behind the cockpit. Doug told me later that he was thinking, “I’ve got to get up and go back there and kill him.”
Doug can’t get out of his seat, but he can hear an angry woman lecturing the intruder in her most motherly tones.
“Young man you should not be shooting people…” She makes her speech and heads back for the over wing exit with her package in hand. ‘Mom’ had just left the scene when the officers start shooting holes in the passenger door.
At this point the deranged man shoots himself. He dies instantly. It has been reported that a security officer shot the intruder – Doug told me the man shot himself.
Doug was rushed to the nearest medical facility because of his heavy bleeding. It was a veterinarian’s clinic, but it worked, they stopped the bleeding and saved his life before taking him on to a hospital.
Doug had a long recovery - they never did get all the lead out of his body.
Much of this information was related to me by Doug after he finally returned to work several years later. No one expected him to return to the cockpit after such a tragic experience.
“The doctors told me I would eventually have a complete nervous breakdown after seeing Freddy killed at close range, but I never did.” Doug told me with a sly smile on his face that scared me a little.
I loved Doug Lofton like a brother; I never knew him to be anything but pleasant and friendly. If he had a fault, it was his fondness for the ladies – when he got wounded, 3 women (that I know of) came to hospital claiming to be his favorite.
Captain Lofton was not an ordinary man; in fact he left a legacy of ‘Doug’ stories. He passed away a few years ago from complications of the lead in his body. I miss him!
Fred Jones’ life was taken in his prime. It was a senseless tragedy and my sympathies go out to his family. Fred’s home town, Linden, Alabama, named their airport after him – “Fred Jones Field”.
Dick Blizzard has a total of 40 years of aviation experience, spending seven years as an aviator in the US Navy, and a further 33 years as an airline pilot. He has been published in aviation magazines, and shares his experiences and writings on his excellent blog: http://dickblizzard.blogspot.com.