Ly Tong, ex-fighter pilot known as the ‘Vietnamese James Bond’
Sept. 1, 1945 – April 5, 2019
Ly Tong, the former fighter pilot known as the “Vietnamese James Bond” for his daring stunts – including hijacking a plane to drop 50,000 political leaflets over his homeland, calling on citizens to overthrow the communist government – died Friday night in San Diego. He was 74.
Tong became famous in 1992 when he hijacked an Airbus A310 on a charter flight for Vietnam Airlines. The jet had departed Bangkok and was about 80 miles from Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, when Tong flashed a plastic knife and coat hanger and claimed that he had a bomb, according to the Aviation Safety Network.
He ordered a flight attendant to take him to the cockpit, where he directed the Bulgarian captain to fly low. Quickly, he released sacks stuffed with fliers out of the cockpit window. The leaflets urged Vietnamese to “build an independent, free and prosperous Vietnam.” He signed it: “Commander of the Uprising Forces.”
He parachuted from an emergency exit into a swamp, where the Vietnamese government arrested him two hours later.
No one aboard the aircraft was harmed.
His sentence of 20 years in prison was cut short after the U.S. and Vietnam normalized relations. Tong was granted amnesty in 1998.
Tong joined the South Vietnamese Air Force and at 17 was assigned to the Black Eagle fighter squadron.In the 1970s, his A-37 jet was shot down, and at the end of the Vietnam War, the North Vietnamese imprisoned him, sending him to reeducation camp outside the coastal city of Nha Trang.
He escaped from camp in 1980 and in 1984, after resettling in Louisiana, he graduated from the University of New Orleans and moved to San Jose, Calif., where he got involved in community politics, joining protests and eventually writing books on Vietnamese history and culture.
– Los Angeles Times