Luis Armando Pena Soltren, 66, was barely 25 when he hijacked Pan American flight 281 alongside two other men on November 24, 1968. The plane was bound for Puerto Rico, but was forced to land in Cuba, a startling, but not rare, occurrence in those days. A total of 30 planes were hijacked in 1968, including two others on that fateful day November day.
It is believed that the hijacking was carried out to raise awareness for the colonial status of the island nation of Puerto Rico. One of the hijackers scrawled “Long live free Puerto Rico” on the inside of the plane. Soltren's two partners in crime, Jose Rafael Rios Cruz and Miguel Castro, were arrested in the mid-1970s. Cruz was sentenced to 15 years in prison and Castro received 12 years according to the U.S. Attorney's office. Their current whereabouts are unknown.
Although his accomplices returned to US soil within ten years of the hijacking, Soltren never left Cuba and thus avoided prosecution. Last month, United States attorney Preet Bharara filed a request in District Court asking that the case against Mr. Soltren be activated, explaining that, "The government believes that the defendant will be returning to the United States shortly." In a statement, Mr. Bharara said that Mr. Soltren “will finally face the American justice system that he has been evading for four decades.”
Soltren surrendered to authorities at the same New York airport which the hijacked plane departed from 41 years ago on Sunday, knowing he would be arrested. Reports have speculated that Soltren returned to the US because he missed family members whom he has not seen in over four decades, including his wife. Soltren's lawyer, James Neuman, entered a plea of not guilty in a Manhattan federal court today on charges of kidnapping and air piracy that could send him to jail for life. When asked why he returned, Neuman refused to give specifics, saying only, "There is some family in the area."