George Wright is charged with hijacking a plane in 1972.
George Wright is charged with hijacking a plane in 1972.
PHOTO: New Jersey Dept of Corrections

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Fugitive hijacker fighting extradition to the U.S., lawyer says

He escaped from jail in 1970, then allegedly helped hijack a plane in 1972

Authorities tracked George Wright's travel patterns to Portugal

The plot was said to be carried out by five members of the Black Liberation Army

(CNN) —  

Fugitive American hijacker George Wright, who was found in Portugal last month after more than 40 years in hiding, is fighting extradition to the United States, his lawyer told CNN Sunday.

George Wright, 68, is accused of hijacking a plane in the name of black liberation. U.S. authorities were able to locate him near the Portuguese capital of Lisbon in late September by tracking his travel patterns – ending a manhunt spanning three continents.

Wright’s attorney said his client, now a Portuguese citizen, is suffering from heart and blood pressure problems while he awaits his case behind bars in a Lisbon jail.

“He thinks that if he goes to the U.S. he will die,” the lawyer, Manuel Luis Ferreira, told CNN. “He was a member of the Black Panthers group, and he fears that he will be made to serve as an example for everyone if he goes, and that he will die in prison.”

Ferreira said a motion arguing against extradition was sent to the judge in the case Thursday, and that the judge could call for a trial to determine extradition – a process that could take several months.

“I’m now trying to establish all the facts about his past and present, and find out more about his life. Here in Portugal he was a very calm man and a much cherished member of his community. He even helped homeless people and took care of them,” Ferreira said.

Wright, a married father of two adult sons, goes by the name Jose Luis Jorge dos Santos in Portugal, his attorney said.

When seeking Wright, authorities matched a fingerprint in a Portuguese national identification database with one that they had on file for Wright from his time in prison, according to two U.S. law enforcement officials. Then, they set up a delicate surveillance operation to make sure they had the man who had eluded them for so long, the officials added.

Wright escaped from a New Jersey jail in 1970, where he was serving 15 to 30 years for murder.

Then, on July 31, 1972, Wright and four other members of the Black Liberation Army allegedly went to the Detroit airport and hijacked Delta Flight 841 for Miami. Wright was then dressed as a priest and carried a handgun in a hollowed-out Bible.

Once on the ground, the hijackers demanded that FBI agents dressed only in bathing suits deliver $1 million ransom to the plane. They wanted to be sure the agents were not carrying guns. The money was duly delivered by the scantily clad agents.

Wright fled to Algeria and faded from sight. It’s not clear how he ended up in Portugal.

He is fighting extradition, a U.S. federal agent said, and his next court appearance in Portugal is in about two weeks.

It could take several months before Wright is extradited back to the United States to serve out the remainder of his prison term for murder, a lawyer familiar with Portuguese criminal law told CNN on Wednesday.

The Portuguese lawyer, who did not want to be identified, said that while Portugal has strong extradition agreements with European Union countries, extraditing a suspect to the United States could be more complex. Wright can appeal the extradition request on several grounds, thus potentially delaying the process.