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FedEx Pilots Tell of Airborne Fight for Life

March 25, 1995

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) _ The 500,000-pound cargo jet was at 18,000 feet. The weather was good. Takeoff uneventful. Then a man burst into the cockpit and flailed at the DC-10′s crew with a hammer.

Battered and bloody after a half-hour struggle, the three crewmen managed to down their attacker and return the jet safely to Memphis.

They talked publicly about the April 7 attack for the first time last week at the federal trial of the hijacking suspect, Auburn Calloway. He is charged with attempted air piracy.

Their fellow FedEx flier was catching a ride to California as the plane’s lone passenger, headed to an April 8 meeting with management to talk about possible falsehoods on his 1989 job application.

The prosecution says he was planning to commit suicide. His job was at stake. An ex-Navy flier, he had $800,000 in life insurance that would pay off regardless of how he died. And his children stood to collect on a $250,000 insurance policy if he died in an accident.

``I have battle fatigue badly and a long life into old age is never guaranteed,″ said an unsigned letter found aboard the plane. ``I would much rather go on a date, time and place and method of my own choosing.

``I resolved quite some time ago that the next time my security and future is threatened or seriously jeopardized, it’s time _ my time to go.″

When the trial resumes this week, the defense is expected to argue that Calloway, 42, is innocent by reason of temporary insanity.

When the attacker lunged at the crew, the cockpit recorder picked up the sounds of battle.

``Get him, get him, get him,″ co-pilot Jim Tucker yelled.

``He’s going to kill us,″ shouted pilot David Sanders.

As the crew tells it, Calloway’s first hammer blow hit second officer Andre Peterson with such force his head smashed forward onto his desk. His skull was fractured front and back.

Tucker, at the controls, caught the next blow on the left side of his head. Slivers of skull dug into his brain.

Sanders came under a rain of blows as he struggled to his feet.

Their attacker stepped outside the flight cabin, grabbed a spear gun and ordered Sanders back to his seat.

Peterson grabbed the spear. Sanders went for the hammer.

Tucker sent the plane into a steep climb, later rolling the fully loaded jet almost upside down to keep the attacker off balance. He also radioed the airport.

``We need an ambulance and, uh, we need, uh, armed intervention as well,″ Tucker told the tower.

Sanders wrestled the hammer away as the assailant grappled with Peterson, biting him on the shoulder and arm.

Tucker put the plane on auto-pilot and traded places with Sanders. Peterson scooped up the hammer.

``I struck Mr. Calloway a couple of times with the hammer. I was afraid he was getting away from us,″ Peterson said.

``Kill the son of a bitch,″ Sanders yelled as the plane neared the airport. ``Kill him. Kill him.″

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