SAN FRANCISCO — Claiming he was underworld prey, a would-be hijacker scrambled aboard an Air Canada jetliner Friday, seized a hatchet kept in the cockpit and brandished it at the pilot for more than three hours before finally surrendering to FBI agents.
No one was hurt in the tense encounter at Gate 64 of San Francisco International's North Terminal, and air traffic proceeded routinely throughout the standoff.
The hijacker was identified by FBI agents as James B. Drake, 37, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. They said Drake told hostage negotiators that he had just arrived in San Francisco from Seoul, South Korea, but this could not be confirmed.
'Chased by the Mafia'
"He was concerned that he was being chased by the Mafia," Barry Mawn, head of criminal investigations for the FBI's San Francisco office, told reporters after Drake's 3:40 p.m. surrender. "There is no indication that his statement is true."
Mawn and other authorities said the man somehow managed to slip onto the Tarmac and make his way aboard the Boeing 767, which had just arrived from Toronto. Passengers were already deplaned and only a dozen crew members were aboard, authorities said, when Drake burst into the cockpit at 12:15 p.m. and armed himself with an 18-inch-long hatchet stored there in case of fire.
The pilot, identified as J. David Robertson of Montreal, radioed the control tower: "There is a man on this aircraft with a fire ax over my head, threatening to take over the aircraft."
This broadcast brought airport security personnel, police SWAT teams and FBI agents scurrying to the airplane. The 171 passengers waiting to board the craft for a flight to Toronto were ushered away from the gate, and all crew members but the pilot quickly deplaned.
Negotiations were carried on face-to-face for more than three hours between Drake and an unknown number of FBI agents who boarded the aircraft.
Initially, officials said, Drake insisted that he be flown to London or Ireland, a flight that would have required refueling the twin-engined jetliner on the East Coast. He later revised his demands, asking only that the FBI protect him from his apparently imagined gangster pursuers and that the media be prevented from taking his picture.
Richard Held, agent-in-charge of the FBI office here, said Drake initially was "very threatening. He had both hands on the hatchet, and he was holding it over his head." As the negotiations wore on, the agent said, Drake relaxed and lowered the makeshift weapon, staying within reach of the pilot.
After his surrender, Drake was questioned at the airport. Agents said he was expected to be booked for investigation of air piracy, a felony.
Robertson, the pilot, was described by agents after the incident as emotionally drained but physically fit.
The attempted hijacking Friday was the first such incident at San Francisco International since 1979, when a hijacker took control of a plane bound from Portland to San Francisco and demanded it be returned to Portland. He was taken into custody after the plane landed here.