MIAMI — An American who hijacked an airliner to Cuba nearly 30 years ago as a self-described revolutionary flew back home Wednesday to face U.S. justice.
FBI agents took William Potts, 56, into custody after his charter flight from Havana landed at Miami International Airport, FBI spokesman Mike Leverock said. Potts faces a 1985 federal indictment charging him with air piracy for hijacking a Piedmont Airlines flight in 1984.
Before leaving Cuba, Potts said he was seeking “closure” and hoped to persuade U.S. prosecutors to give him credit for the 13-plus years he spent in Cuban prison for the hijacking. The U.S. charge carries a sentence of 20 years to life in prison, according to federal prosecutors.
“My position is I am a free man. I have served my time,” Potts said.
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He is scheduled to make his initial appearance in federal court Thursday.
According to an FBI affidavit filed with the indictment, Potts bought a one-way ticket on the Piedmont flight on March 27, 1984. Potts has said the flight originated in Newark, N.J., but the FBI affidavit said it was New York’s LaGuardia Airport.
As the airliner approached Miami, the FBI said, Potts handed a flight attendant a note claiming he had two “comrades” aboard and that two explosive devices were on the plane. Potts called himself “Lt. Spartacus, a soldier in the Black Liberation Army,” the FBI said.
Among other things, the note also demanded $5 million. The plane was flown to Havana, where authorities boarded it and took Potts into custody. Potts said he thought Cuba would welcome him. Instead, he was tried and convicted of air piracy. He was later granted permanent residency in Cuba and has been living in an apartment east of Havana.
In 2009, Potts called himself the “homesick hijacker” in an article about his desire to return to the U.S. He said Wednesday that he decided to come home because, “It’s time it had closure. Why leave it hanging, why leave this gaping uncertainty?”