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Flight to Freedom: A Daring Escape from Hungary

zita kisgergely

Hungarians take great pride in their inventions. And with good reason: many ingenious items were hatched in the minds of Hungarians, from the atom bomb to the Rubik’s Cube. But did you know that the concept of air-plane hijacking was also ‘invented’ by a Hungarian. Detailed in his book Free for All to Freedom, Hungarian-born Frank Iszak tells of how he and his cohort George Polyak forcibly commandeered a flight over Hungary in order to jump the Iron Curtain and escape the oppressive communist controlled country to get to the West, making it the first hi-jacking of a commercial flight.

Boarding a 1956 a twin engine DC-3 on a commercial flight on Friday 13th of July in 1956, Iszak, a Hungarian forced laborer who worked in a brick factory, and his companion were in the company of other passengers, who were all in on the plot, except for one who happened to be a KGB agent. In midair they would have to overcome faulty firearms and a violent struggle in order to commandeer the plane, then later would need to weave through the peaks of the Alps as the plane ran out of gas. But in the end, they were successful, and freedom was theirs as they crossed into the West.

Iszak told WBUR.org "The door to the outside was cracked open, so we couldn’t close it fully. So the plane had to stay at 10,000 feet, and we started to run into thunderstorms. Sometimes I looked out the window - it was as close to the next mountain that I ever wanted to see. So we’re flying through the Alps for an hour and a half without any navigation - total soup, 10,000 feet when the mountains could be 11,000 feet. And then eventually we run out of fuel, so now you have to descend from 10,000 feet to 300 and some. When we finally broke out of the clouds, it was the most harrowing experience you can even dream of."

It is an incredible story, one that has garnered interest from Hollywood. There is currently a plan to turn Iszak’s memoir into a film by director Endre Hules, who enlisted actors David Kross and Sam Neil.

Frank Iszak calls the day the plane landed on a NATO airstrip his "second birthday". Iszak has led a full life since escaping the Soviet Union. Once in the USA, he went on to found and advertising studio, run a yoga foundation, and work as a private investigator.

Have a look at the news clip documenting the event - the world's first hijacking - here: