Home -update The Heroes of Trans Australia Airlines Flight 408

The Heroes of Trans Australia Airlines Flight 408

In 1960 an attempted hijacking was avoided by a heroic pilot who used rather unconventional measures to protect his plane and passengers.

The Trans Australia Airlines hijacking was Australia’s first plane hijacking. It took place on the evening of 19. July 1960. The aircraft, a Lockheed Electra Mk 2 (VH-TLB) was operating Flight 408, the last Sydney to Brisbane flight for the day. The lives of forty-three passengers and six crew were endangered during the incident.

The terrorist a Russian man named Alex Hildebrandt, was armed with a fully loaded sawn-off .22 calibre rifle and had a spare loaded magazine. He was also carrying a bomb that, although primitive, had the power to blow apart the aircraft fuselage killing everyone one on board.

Hildebrandt had suspended a bare wire over a torch battery attached to a detonator linked to two sticks of gelignite, and another wire attached from the gelignite to the battery. He held the bomb as he began reciting his demands, one of which was for the plane to be redirected to Singapore.

As the hijacking commenced, the co-pilot Tom R Bennett approached Hildebrandt attempting to converse and calm him down. This was met by a warning shot from the hijacker that hit the aircraft ceiling, narrowly missing Bennett’s head.

The co-pilot then reacted in a way that most men can only hope that they would, but will thankfully never have to find out. He punched Hildebrandt clean in the face and then ripped the wires from the bomb he was holding, disabling it.Captain Dennis Lawrence then intervened to assist First Officer Bennett. Together they subdued and completely disarmed the hijacker, who was restrained and secured with handcuffs carried on the aircraft.

The plane landed in Brisbane with all 43 passengers unharmed. Tom Bennet was awarded the George Medal for his actions and Captain Lawrence was commended for his part in subduing the hijacker. These were the heroes of Trans Australia Airlines Flight 408.


[Sources: Wikipedia, TAA Museum]