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Minn. Woman Recounts 1968 Plane Hijacking Ordeal

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Long before 9/11 increased airport security, there were a number of hijackings in the late 1960s and early 70s.

Most of the hijackers forced pilots to land in Cuba after the U.S. banned travel to the country.

A Minnesota woman and her 15-month-old daughter were on one of those flights nearly 50 years ago.

Betty Shaw - Cuba Plane Hijacking
(credit: CBS)

Betty Shaw remembers it like it was yesterday.

"The captain announced that we would be going to Havana," Shaw said in an interview on July 2, 1968.

One day earlier, Shaw and her infant daughter, Kathy, were on Northwest Orient flight 714. It originated in Minneapolis, picked up passengers in Chicago and was headed to Miami.

"We were going down to see my mom and dad," Shaw said.

Their flight soon made headlines across the country. The 727 was hijacked by a man with a gun. The first sign of trouble was the stewardess.

"She was pale and white and I offered to let her sit down but she said no, she'd be alright," Shaw said in archival footage.

Cuba Hijack Press Clipping
(credit: CBS)

Shaw says she remembers hearing the stewardess' one-way conversation.

"I knew what was going on," Shaw said.

Second Officer Ken Warras says the hijacker burst into the cockpit with a gun and held it to his head, demanding, "Go to Cuba!" And so they did.

"Anybody that looked out the window could've seen that we were over the Atlantic," Shaw said. "Nobody was thinking, 'Are we in danger? Are they going to hold us,' or any of that. They were all wondering the more immediate things."

One of those immediate things was Kathy's diaper supply, which had just run out.

"I just given Kathy a bottle of juice and put on her last diaper," Shaw said. "We ended up using table linen."

Upon arrival in Cuba, soldiers stormed aboard and escorted the hijacker off the plane.

"What we were told was that he was homesick, missed his family, wanted to go back to Cuba," Shaw said.

Betty Shaw And Daughter Kathy Deal - Cuba Plane Hijacking
(credit: CBS)

Shaw's daughter, now named Kathy Deal, says she can only imagine what was going through the hijacker's head.

"To have to go through lengths to have to hijack a plane, they must've been desperate to get back," Deal said.

Shaw says it was a long night spent in the airport. The crew flew an empty plane back to Miami the next morning. Later that day, the passengers took a charter plane back, and then spoke with the FBI before clearing customs.

"I was the first passenger to be available, so when I walked out it looked like a presidential campaign," Shaw said.

Reporters swarmed Shaw as she stepped off the plane.

"The Cubans at the airport were very, very nice. They let the crew bring back an empty comfortable plane. We had to stay for about seven or eight more hours, take a two-and-a-half-hour bus ride and then come back on another plane. And oh, it was really a night," Shaw said to reporters in 1968.

Shaw and Deal would like to go back to Cuba, on a scheduled flight. This hijacking -- and dozens that followed -- transformed airport security.

They were the catalyst for the Sky Marshal program, followed by the inspection of all baggage and passengers.

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