A woman who hijacked a Los Angeles-to-New York jumbo jet and held more than 100 passengers captive for about 11 hours was captured by the FBI early this morning at Kennedy Airport in New York.
"The woman is in custody and all the passengers have been released," a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman said at 2 a.m.
Jerry Belson, a Brooklyn attorney who was one of the passengers, told reporters that "a police captain jumped over a seat and grabbed the woman. Then a steward... grabbed the package which she had in her lap and raced off the plane with it."
Belson said the hijacker was seated in the rear of the plane and described her as a "very normal person in her mid-50s."
The hijacking, a bizarre event that tied up security forces at both Los Angeles and John F. Kennedy International airports, began when the woman told a stewardess that she had nitroglycerin on the plane.
She demainded that a Hollywood entertainer -- Charlton Heston, Jack Lemmon or Lindsay Wagner -- read a letter of hers on nationwide television. For most of last evening, Heston stood by at Los Angeles International.
The plane, United Flight 8, landed in New York as scheduled about 7:30 last night. Then began an intensive round of negotiations that resulted in the release of all passengers.
It was not immediately clear what cause the hijacker was representing. Late in the negotiations, however, an FBI spokesman said that issues being discussed were "personal to her."
About two hours after the plane landed at Kennedy, an FBI agent boarded the plane and began talking directly to the woman. At that time, about 25 people were released. The plane carried 112 passengers and a crew of 12 when it left Los Angeles.
The hijacking began yesterday afternoon when the United flight was about 10 miles west of Prescott, Ariz. The hijacker, according to United officials, handed a note to one of the stewardesses, who took it to the captain.
The note said, according to officials, that the hijacker was "ready to die" for her cause. The hijacker demanded that any one of the three entertainers go to the Trans World Airlines terminal at Los Angeles International.
Once the entertainer was visible, an accomplice of the hijacker would make himself or herself known and lead the actor to a letter, which the actor was to read to reporters and on television. It could not be learned whether there really was an accomplice.
Federal Aviation Administration officials said later that the note to the stewardess included references to "revolutionary tactics" but did not identify any cause.
The FBI was able to locate Heston early in the evening and drove him immediately to Los Angeles Airport. He never made a public appearance, however.
The Los Angeles terminal was also searched by FBI agents and Los Angeles police, but nothing was found.
The incident created media circuses on two coasts, as reporters and television crews jammed the Los Angeles and Kennedy airports.
After the first group of passengers was released in New York, they were interviewed by the FBI, then taken out of the United Terminal. A wall of security guards and New York policemen formed to keep the released passengers from talking to reporters.
One of the passengers shouted that the incident had been "pretty boring." Another told reporters that many on board the plane apparently didn't know a hijacking was taking place until they landed and couldn't get off.
Margaret Thomas, a 70-year-old passenger from Bridgeport, Conn., and one of the first 25 released. said "they didn't say a word. I had no idea. I don't think anyone did."
During the negotiating session on board the plane, the FBI was given a 25-page note written by the hijacker. An FBI agent said, "Generally, it rambles. It is a religious-type letter and it is quite incoherent."
One of the passengers was actor and singer Theodore Bikel, who took out his guitar and gave a concert on the plane while the negotiations were going on, passengers said.
Sam Jaffe, the actor, another passenger, said "I had a lollipop in my mouth as a pacifier."
All passengers interviewed said there was no panic, and voiced praise for the crew.