Obituary: Zvonko Busic / Croatian who hijacked plane

Jan. 23, 1946 -- Sept. 1, 2013

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Zvonko Busic, a Croatian nationalist who used fake explosives in 1976 to hijack a Trans World Airlines flight out of La Guardia Airport in New York and planted a real bomb beneath Grand Central Terminal that killed a police officer, was found dead at his home in Rovanjska, Croatia, on Sept. 1. He was 67.

Croatian news reports said Busic had shot himself. His American-born wife, Julienne, found the body and a suicide note, the reports said.

Busic, who was 30 at the time and lived in New York City, said he wanted to draw attention to Croatia's struggle for independence from Tito's Yugoslavia.

He, his wife and three Croatian co-conspirators living in the United States boarded the flight Sept. 10. The plane, a Boeing 727, was carrying more than 80 passengers and crew bound for Chicago.

Around 8 p.m., Mr. Busic handed a note to a flight attendant. The note said he and his co-conspirators had five bombs on board and were commandeering the plane, and that another had been planted in a subway station locker under Grand Central.

The hijackers wanted a long declaration of Croatian independence to appear in The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and The International Herald Tribune in Paris. They also wanted the authorities to drop thousands of leaflets printed with the declaration over London, Paris, Montreal, Chicago and New York.

Their demands were largely met: All the newspapers except The Herald Tribune printed the declaration, and leaflets fluttered over all five cities.

But what the hijackers had displayed as a bomb was actually a metal pot with wires and clay cobbled together to look like one. Only the one below Grand Central was real.

In his note, Busic explained where the bomb was hidden and how to remove it safely. He never intended to detonate it, he said later.

As officers tried to defuse the bomb, it detonated, killing an officer and injuring three other people.

Meanwhile, the plane headed for Europe; the French government allowed it to land in Paris because it was low on fuel. The hijackers surrendered at 8 a.m. Sept. 12. None of the hostages were harmed.

The hijackers were charged with air piracy resulting in a death and conspiracy. All five were convicted in 1977. Busic and his wife received mandatory life sentences, while the others received 30-year sentences. Julienne Busic was paroled in 1989.

"If I had ever imagined that anyone could have been hurt," Busic said, "I would never, even if it had cost me anonymous death at Yugoslav hands, embarked on that flight."

Busic was paroled in 2008 and returned to Croatia.

He was active in politics after his return. On Wednesday, in Zagreb, Croatian politicians and hundreds of others gave him a hero's funeral.

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