The Reason This Hijacker Is Living Free In Portugal

You'd think that anyone who has been involved in the real-life hijacking of a plane full of innocent people would certainly be punished to the full extent of the law, and would be looking at a lengthy jail sentence. However, somewhat bizarrely, this isn't always the case, as the story of George Wright -– a U.S. fugitive who is still on the FBI's wanted list — demonstrates.

According to The New York Times, Wright's story begins in 1962, when the 19-year-old Virginian was involved along with two friends in a robbery at a gas station in New Jersey, which left the gas station owner –- a war veteran and father of two named Walter Patterson –- dead. Though Wright had not pulled the trigger, he was sentenced to 15-to-30 years in prison but escaped in 1970 after serving seven years.

Wright emerged in 1972, when, along with several accomplices, he hijacked Delta Airlines Flight 841 on the way from Detroit, Michigan to Miami, Florida. According to the FBI, Wright was dressed as a priest and boarded under the name the Reverend Larry Burgess, with a gun hidden inside a hollowed-out Bible.

According to The New York Times, Wright and his accomplices then demanded the FBI supply them with $1 million ransom money for the release of the flight's 86 passengers to "​​get money for the Black Liberation Army" with whom he had become affiliated since his arrest. After allowing the crew of Delta Airlines Flight 841 to take the plane to Miami to refuel, Wright and the other hijackers then forced the crew to fly to Algeria, where they sought political asylum.

George Wright's life in Europe

According to The New York Times, George Wright and his band of hijackers headed to Algeria believing the country to be at the forefront of the Black Liberation Movement, being home at the time to the Black Panther Party leader Eldridge Cleaver. However, the Algerian government proved not to be as supportive of Wright's group as they had hoped and forced the hijackers to relinquish the ransom money they had taken so it could be returned to U.S. officials. Next, the group traveled to France, where all the hijackers — except Wright — were arrested and sentenced to prison time, per Al Jazeera. ​

Wright was missing until he was finally traced to his home outside Lisbon, Portugal, in 2011 through a fingerprint match, after more than 40 years on the run, according to The Guardian. Wright had since been married, had children, and learned to speak fluent Portuguese.

In the U.S., Wright is still considered a wanted fugitive, and authorities have tried several times since 2012 to have Wright extradited to his country of birth to face justice and to serve the prison time he fled more than 50 years ago, but the Portuguese government argues that the window for which Wright –- who has since been granted Portuguese citizenship –- could be tried for his crimes has long since expired, according to The New York Times, with a senior Portuguese judge telling the Associated Press: The case is now closed."

Nevertheless, the FBI still warns that Wright "should be considered armed and dangerous." His wanted profile remains active.