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US citizen pleads guilty in ’68 hijacking

Associated Press / March 19, 2010

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NEW YORK — A 67-year-old man admitted yesterday that he hijacked a plane four decades ago and forced it to land in Cuba.

US District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein forced Luis Armando Pena Soltren to reveal the details of the hijacking. Pena Soltren recounted how he threatened to cut a flight attendant’s throat to get access to the cockpit, where another man held a gun to the back of the copilot.

Pena Soltren, a US resident, returned to the United States in October, something his lawyer said he had been seeking to do for decades because he was remorseful. He entered his plea to charges of conspiracy to commit air piracy, interfering with a flight crew, and kidnapping in federal court in Manhattan. Sentencing was set for June 29.

Pan American Flight 281, which had 103 passengers and crew, was traveling from New York’s Kennedy Airport to Puerto Rico on Nov. 24, 1968.

An indictment returned in December 1968 charged Pena Soltren and two others with using pistols and knives to force the pilots to divert the flight.

Two of the men were arrested in the mid-1970s and pleaded guilty to their roles.

At sentencing, Pena Soltren could face life in prison, though a letter from prosecutors estimated that the range under federal sentencing guidelines was roughly 22 to 30 years.