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Convicted killer, hijacking suspect George Wright caught after 39 years

In this July 1972 file photo, an FBI agent, left, wearing only a pair of swim trunks, per hijackers’ instructions, takes a case with $1 million ransom to a hijacked Delta DC8 jet in Miami. 

Associated Press

In this July 1972 file photo, an FBI agent, left, wearing only a pair of swim trunks, per hijackers’ instructions, takes a case with $1 million ransom to a hijacked Delta DC8 jet in Miami. 

ALMOCAGEME, Portgual — A 1970s militant who carried out one of the most brazen plane hijackings in U.S. history lived for decades in an idyllic Portuguese hamlet with his Portuguese wife and two children, neighbors said Wednesday.

George Wright, 68, was taken into custody by local police Monday at the request of the U.S. government, which is seeking his extradition for escaping from a New Jersey jail in 1970 after being convicted of murder. Wright was also named as one of the hijackers of a Delta flight in 1972.

The former Black Liberation Army member plans to fight the extradition demand, a Portuguese news agency reported Wednesday.

Wright lived in the tiny town of Almocageme, 28 miles west of Lisbon and close to Atlantic beaches. His wife, identified as Maria do Rosario Valente, 55, is the daughter of a retired Portuguese army officer. They had two children — Portuguese-born Marco and Sara — now in their early 20s.

Wright was convicted of the 1962 murder of Walter Patterson, a decorated World War II veteran shot during a robbery at his gas station in Wall, N.J.

A fingerprint on Wright's Portuguese identity card was the break that led a U.S. fugitive task force to him. A photocopy of the ID card, shown to the Associated Press, bore the name Jose Luis Jorge dos Santos, an alias that U.S. officials said Wright used. It put his age as 68.

Neighbors estimated the family had been in the village for at least 20 years.

On Aug. 19, 1970, eight years into his 15- to 30-year prison term, Wright and three other men escaped from the Bayside State Prison in Leesburg, N.J.

In 1972, Wright — dressed as a priest and using an alias — hijacked a Delta flight from Detroit to Miami with four other Black Liberation Army members and three children, including Wright's companion and their 2-year-old daughter.

The plane's 86 other passengers were released for a $1 million ransom. The hijackers forced the plane to fly to Boston, where an international navigator was taken aboard. The plane then flew to Algeria, where the hijackers sought asylum. Algerian officials returned the plane and the money to the United States and briefly detained the hijackers before allowing them to stay.

Wright and the group left Algeria by boat for Europe in late 1972 or early 1973 and settled in France. Wright moved on from the group after breaking up with a girlfriend, and no one knew where he went. His associates were subsequently tracked down, arrested, tried and convicted in Paris in 1976.

Convicted killer, hijacking suspect George Wright caught after 39 years 09/29/11 [Last modified: Thursday, September 29, 2011 12:28am]

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