FedEx 705: How Three Hero Pilots Fought an Attacker in Midair and Survived
On April 7, 1994, Fed Ex 705 took off as planned from Memphis, TN. Soon after, the off-duty flight engineer, who was riding in the jumpseat, carried out a vicious attack on the flight crew members who were operating the aircraft. In Episode 9 of Take to the Sky: the Air Disaster Podcast, we explore the terrifying, violent attack that made three pilots work together and fight heroically to save their own lives and called into question everything we know about aviation security.
Auburn Calloway Joins Federal Express Flight 705 in the Jump Seat
On April 7, 1994, Federal Express Flight 705 is preparing to leave Memphis for San Jose, CA. The airplane is a DC-10 cargo jet carrying electronics equipment. Fed Ex is a well-known mail delivery service that operates the world’s largest air cargo fleet flown by more than 4,500 pilots and delivers over 3.4 million packages a day. It is also headquartered in Memphis, TN.
On this day, it is beautiful and clear with very few clouds. A perfect day for flying.
And there will be four individuals flying onboard Flight 705. Andy Peterson is the flight engineer for Flight 705, and has been with Fed EX for 5 years, and he is first to board the plane. He is surprised to see that someone else is already on the plane when he gets there. Sitting in the jump seat is Auburn Calloway, a fellow Fed Ex flight engineer. Andy and Auburn make small talk and Flight Engineer Andy learns that Auburn is riding out with them to San Jose.
Flight Engineer Andy settles into his seat toward the back of the cockpit near the engineer control panels and proceeds to go through his pre-flight checklist. And this is when he notices something strange – the circuit breaker to the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) is in the OFF position. So, he resets it. He said in a later interview he had never seen that happen before and thought it was weird. Nevertheless, Flight Engineer Andy leaves the plane for a bit to go do more checks.
While Andy proceeds with his checks, Captain Dave Sanders and Co-Pilot Jim Tucker board the plane. They are both ex-Navy pilots, with Captain Dave having been with Fed Ex for 20 years and Co-Pilot Jim for 10 years.
They, too, chat with Auburn and learn he’ll be in the jump seat and since it’s a very routine flight, they don’t see any issue with that. It’s pretty standard. The pilots immediately get to work in the cockpit going through their own pre-flight checks.
This is the first time Co-Pilot Jim and Captain Dave have flown together or even met. Captain Dave and Flight Engineer Andy had a trip together before that day. On this flight, Co-Pilot Jim will be the flying pilot.
Flight Engineer Andy returns to the plane and sees that – mysteriously – the same circuit breaker that powers the CVR is once again in the OFF position. He pushes it back into place and decides to stay put and wait and see if the breaker pops again before calling maintenance. This was important because if the CVR doesn’t work, that is a no-go item for flying. But it does not come back out, and the pilots all complete their pre-flight checks and prepare for departure. And soon thereafter, they are airborne. It’s a smooth take off – no issues, nothing out of the ordinary, and a few minutes into the flight, Fed Ex 705 is climbing up toward 19K feet.
Federal Express Flight 705 Pilots Attacked by Fed Ex Flight Engineer in Midair
And then, this is when everything changes. Suddenly, Flight Engineer Andy notices that Auburn walks into the entryway of the cockpit, which has remained opened during takeoff. Out of the corner of Andy’s eye, Auburn’s arm comes down and starts to strike Andy over and over. In each hand is a hammer.
Acting quickly, Auburn immediately pivots to the right pilot seat where Co-Pilot Jim is sitting, and in an instant, strikes Jim on the left side of the head with one of the hammers. Co-Pilot Jim said the pain was excruciating and even blinding in its intensity. He doesn’t completely black out, but he says on the Air Disasters episode that he lost “useful consciousness” for about 45 seconds.
Seeing that Co-Pilot Jim is incapacitated, Auburn – or the attacker as our podcast will refer to him – moves onto his last victim, Captain Dave. But the Captain is ready for him and prepares for a fight. And they do. Captain Dave tries to block all the blows, but he is struck with something he cannot identify. He said in an interview that when he looked at the attacker’s face in that moment, all he saw was anger.
Although seriously injured, Flight Engineer Andy and Captain Dave are still alive. The attacker, seeing this, hurries out of the cockpit to go back to a guitar case he brought onboard with him. And unknown to everyone else, it contains a stash of all his weapons.
Co-Pilot Jim yells out to his crew mates, “Get him!” And so, these men, bleeding from serious head wounds, begin to mobilize.
The attacker clearly has a backup plan – he’s brought a spear gun just in case the force of hammers is not enough. The attacker charges back into the cockpit, pointing the spear gun at the flight crew, shouting at them to sit back down and get into their seats or he says he will kill them all.
Flight Engineer Andy, with his ears ringing and his balance completely shaken, grabs the spear gun with both hands. He grips it with all his might and tells himself to hold on and not let go. And soon Captain Dave also stands up and grabs the spear as well and tries to take the attacker down. And so, the fight for their lives begins.
Federal Express Flight 705 Pilot Uses Military Maneuvers to Thwart Onboard Attack
Remember, Co-Pilot Jim has been hit in the head, and he cannot move his right side, but he can still operate his left side. And he does something that the attacker could never have expected. Remember, Co-Pilot Jim is a former Navy fighter pilot. And not just any Navy pilot, but a combat instructor flying A-4s, which is a single-seat subsonic carrier-capable attack aircraft. Basically, he’s a combat-trained pilot.
And this is when Co-Pilot Jim’s combat training kicks in. He thinks, I have the best weapon that I could have right here in my hands: the plane itself. And this situation, he tells himself, is an air combat situation. This is life or death.
And one strategy he has learned comes into play this very moment: engage the enemy directly so you make HIM predictable. Co-pilot Jim pulls back the yolk and puts the plane into a sudden and very steep 15-degree climb. This causes the three men to be pushed out of the cockpit into the galley right behind. In the jostling back and forth, the attacker once again hits Captain Dave in the head with one of the hammers.
But Co-pilot Jim does not stop with the steep climb maneuver. He immediately rolls the aircraft to the left – sharply – to try and throw the attacker off his feet. And the three fighting men roll across the smoke curtain that partitions the galley from the cargo area. The fight continues and the men are now pinned to the left side of the plane. Remember, the crew members are seriously injured, and they are losing a lot of blood, and with it, their remaining strength. Co-Pilot Jim continues to roll the plane. It is almost completely upside down, almost right on its back, at a 140-degree vertical. The plane makes the roll to the left and then it continues to roll all the way to 140 degrees, which makes it look like it is almost upside down.
He shouts back to the crew, “Get him! I’ve got control of the plane!” The men continue their fight – now on the ceiling of the plane. Co-Pilot Jim pulls back on the yolk next and puts the almost upside-down plane into a steep nosedive. The G-force of the dive pins the fighting men to the ceiling.
This is a super risky but very strategic move. Commercial aircraft are never meant to roll more than 60-degrees. The plane is traveling at a very dangerous speed in this position of over 500 MPH – he is putting the plane into a position for which it was never designed. In fact, the DC-10 was not made to fly over 430 MPH. This is so significant: no DC-10 in history has ever been flown at this rate of speed and have someone survive to tell about it. We’re in unknown territory now. Co-Pilot Jim said he had never heard such incredible amounts of wind that he heard then.
Now, the plane is approaching supersonic speed. At 500 MPH, the windspeed indicator is at the top of the scale. The airflow is disrupted over the elevators (elevators control the airplane’s pitch, and therefore, the angle of attack and the lift of the wing), and the airplane is becoming very stressed. Now, remember Co-pilot Jim has been hit on the left side of his brain and as his body recovers from this steep dive and the G forces, he becomes paralyzed on his left side. So, now they’re really in peril.
Co-Pilot Jim knows if he does not pull out of the nosedive soon, the airplane will probably tear apart. He glances to his side and realizes the throttle was still full on, left in that position since the airplane took off and when Captain Dave got up out of his seat to confront the attacker. Co-pilot Jim must release his only usable hand to reduce the throttle – and he does it successfully! Now the engines are in idle and he can maintain better control and carefully pulls the plane out of its steep dive and levels it off at about 5K feet.
Despite all that maneuvering on Copilot Jim’s account, which has left the men rolling all over the back of the plane, the attacker hits Captain Dave a third time, and this almost knocks the Captain out.
Fed Ex 705 Declares an Emergency Amidst Attempted Takeover of Plane
Despite Flight Engineer Andy’s severe injury (he does not know it at the time, but his temporal artery has been ruptured and he is bleeding all over the place), he and Captain Dave manage to finally pin the attacker down. All this happens in a little over 60 seconds.
Co-Pilot Jim finally has an opportunity to radio ATC and declares an emergency. He tells them, we’ve had an attempted takeover. ATC responds immediately with instructions to get them back to the airport with ambulances at the ready.
The fighting resumes once again at the back of the galley, and again, Co-Pilot Jim uses the plane as a weapon: he rolls it sharply to the right. This pins the men against the side of the interior of the plane.
Co-Pilot Jim radios ATC again and requests armed intervention: this is the most serious request from a pilot. It means that when they land, armed officials will storm the plane. ATC notices though that the plane is heading away from the airport, and they fear that the attacker has control of the plane. But he doesn’t – it’s Co-Pilot Jim.
He is again pushing the plane to its limits. He turns the wheel all the way around flipping the plane in the opposite direction. Then he reverses the roll, keeping the maneuvers unpredictable.
This is 3.5 minutes after the attack began – the attacker is injured and pinned down but still won’t relinquish the spear. Captain Dave starts hitting the attacker over and over with the hammer he has wrestled away from him. Captain Dave starts yelling for Co-Pilot Jim to put the plane on autopilot and get back there and help them.
So, Co-Pilot Jim, with a fractured skull and only one side of his body working, puts the plane on autopilot and goes back to the galley. This means no one is flying the plane at this moment. So, when ATC radios in, they get no answer.
When Co-Pilot Jim gets back to where the three struggling men are, he sees the surrounding walls, floors, and ceiling all are covered in blood smears. He said, “it was total carnage.”
Captain Dave has hit the attacker in the head four times with a hammer and has disarmed him. He hands the spear to Co-Pilot Jim, who tells the attacker, “You move, and I’ll kill you.”
Captain Dave, as is procedure in an emergency, is now going to fly the airplane as the senior pilot and captain of the flight. And he takes all the weapons with him to the cockpit. When he gets back to his seat, he’s in a daze because he is bleeding a lot from the top of his head and his eye.
Fed Ex 705 Captain Conducts Emergency Maneuver to Land Plane Safely
Captain Dave knows he must get the plane on the ground quickly. He gets back in touch with ATC and gets instructions to land. Everything seems like it’s over and is going to end well. But there are more dangers awaiting them. The plane is 18 tons heavier than it should be for safe landing. In most emergency landings, there is time to dump excess fuel. But Captain Dave, being totally alone in the cockpit, cannot access those controls safely since they are at the engineer’s fuel panel. Reaching them is in fact, impossible.
And to make the situation even more dire, the attacker is making a comeback: he’s now crawling toward the jump seat with Co-Pilot Jim and Flight Engineer Andy on top of him trying to weigh him down with their bodies.
The attacker uses his thumbs to push into Co-Pilot Jim’s eyes to try and scratch them and his face. But the crew is determined to keep the attacker from getting into the cockpit.
The plane is now at 7K feet.
Captain Dave, hearing the renewed commotion from the galley, decides to leave the plane on autopilot. It’s in this moment that he makes a decision: he’s going to go back there to the galley and kill the attacker. He’s like, this must end. He gets up and just as he is about to do it, Co-Pilot Jim shouts out, “Captain, we have him under control now”.
Captain Dave now resumes his focus on the descent. They are basically too high and too fast to land. So, he needs to make a series of turns –these turns are more like those you would see a fighter jet making, tight corkscrews in the air, cutting to the left and to the right. But not something that a large and heavy commercial aircraft should attempt. But he has no choice. He knows it is a matter of time before the attacker regains control.
First, Captain Dave must turn 90 degrees to the right, and fly parallel to the runway, and then execute a tight 180-degree return to line up with the runway. He also must ignore all the system warnings and alarms that are sounding in the cockpit. When he makes the first turn, the plane is almost on its side.
People who saw these maneuvers from the ground say the cargo plane looked like a fighter jet. When Captain Dave comes out of the first turn, he is only 300 feet above the ground. And the engines are in idle, which never happens. Usually, the engines are in full power on landing. But it’s the only way to get the plane to slow down. And he’s still coming in too fast.
Meanwhile, the attacker rallies ONE LAST TIME as he spots a hammer on the floor nearby. Co-Pilot Jim pleads with Flight Engineer Andy, who is on top of the attacker, to hit him. But Andy is severely weak and has lost an extreme amount of blood. In an interview that appeared on Air Disasters, Andy said that he was looking at Co-Pilot Jim with a blank stare and Co-Pilot Jim looked him right in the eyes and said sternly, like a father would, “HIT HIM.” And so, Flight Engineer Andy starts swinging.
The DC-10 is just feet above the runway traveling over 200 MPH. But amazingly, when the plane finally hits the runway, all 10 tires withstand the pressure. Captain Dave has landed the plane with just 1,000 feet of runway to spare.
Fed Ex 705 Attacker Arrested, Pilots Rushed to Hospital
As soon as they land, they deploy the emergency slide and rescuers on the ground immediately place a ladder against the side of the plane. In comes Paramedic Dave Teague (SP). He first handcuffs the attacker. He also immediately checks Flight Engineer Andy and realizes Andy barely has a pulse. So, Andy is the first crew member to leave the plane. Then Co-Pilot Jim and then the attacker. Captain Dave is the final crew member to leave. He said as he looked around the blood-soaked airplane, he had this sense that “we won. We did it”.
Despite their victory over the attacker, the crew is badly injured. Co-Pilot Jim has bones chips driven into his brain and Flight Engineer Andy’s life is in danger due to massive blood loss. Both are in critical condition as they are raced to the hospital.
Why Auburn Calloway Attacked the Pilots of Federal Express Flight 705
Obviously, there is a criminal investigation that is opened by the FBI. A key question needs to be answered: why would Auburn Calloway do this?
To answer that, they explore his life and theorize what they think led up to this decision to murder his colleagues and take over the plane.
Leading up to 1994, Auburn Calloway was, on the surface, highly accomplished. He was described as a driven person who was highly strategic in his thinking. He graduated from Stanford in 1974. He entered the Navy and became a top Navy flyer. He had a promising career ahead of him and was looking forward to putting his kids through Stanford, his alma mater. But his marriage ended four years earlier, and his career as an airman stalled. And the day after the attack, he was also about to lose his job in a hearing, having been caught forging flight documents. Specifically, he had lied about how much flight time he had in the Navy. And so that’s why Fed Ex was investigating him.
He had originally been scheduled to be the flight engineer on this very flight, but he and his crew had exceeded their hours limit by 1 minute and had been replaced with this crew. As a Flight Engineer, he would have been alone with two people in the aircraft, not three, and one of the crew members would have been female. As a martial arts expert, he’d have little trouble overpowering that crew, and there wouldn’t have been anyone present to reset the Cockpit Voice Recorder breaker. He would also have had a tactical advantage since the Flight Engineer’s station is located directly behind the other two crew members. It would have been a perfect crime. But, once his crew was bumped, he figured he could still pull his plan off, and he almost did.
That morning, still determined to execute his heinous plan, Calloway placed his weapons in the guitar case. He knows that as an employee he is unlikely to be searched. Remember, this is before 9/11. Before leaving for the airport, he arranges his will on his bed, which he had just recently updated, and he sends $54K to his ex-wife.
And once onboard Flight 705, his plan was to disconnect the cockpit voice recorder and bludgeon the crew to their deaths using weapons that wouldn’t stand out in the wreckage. This might have worked since a speargun in the wreckage would probably have been part of the crew’s luggage, and the hammer would likely be dismissed as a tool left behind by maintenance. Even with a discovery of a disabled fuse, he could simply continue to fly after killing the crew and allow the Cockpit Voice Recorder to loop over the oldest recorded data – which, in 1994, was a standard 30 minutes. He would then fly the airplane into the ground, or into the Fed Ex headquarters there in Memphis, taking his own life and perhaps the lives of countless others.
Any injuries found on the bodies would have been consistent with the crash, and the investigation would eventually wind down, attributing the deaths to the crash. The attacker’s children would have received over $2M in life insurance, as well as any damages awarded by the company, ensuring they could afford to go to Stanford.
But, thankfully, this was not the fate of Flight 705 and the attacker is currently serving two life sentences in a California federal prison without the chance for parole.
Pilots of Federal Express Flight 705 Celebrated as Heroes for Thwarting Attempted Murder-Suicide
On May 26, 1994 the three pilots were awarded the Airline Pilots Association’s Gold Medal for Heroism, the highest award they could receive.
But despite not crashing the plane, the attacker still caused severe collateral damage in the lives of the three crew members. The attacker had fractured both Andy’s and Jim’s skulls. Jim’s jaw was dislocated, and he had multiple cuts because the attacker had tried to gouge out one of his eyes and stabbed his right arm. Jim also had multiple operations and intense physical therapy over 3 years. He had to learn how to walk and talk again. In addition to the multiple injuries to his head, Captain Dave suffered several deep gashes. Doctors had to sew his right ear back into place.
Due to the extent and severity of their injuries, none of the brave flight crew has been able to medically return to commercial aviation.
Flight Engineer Andy said every time he sees a plane flying, he wonders where it is going. Captain Dave said in an interview with the Discovery Channel, “The bond of pilots… what you do together in the airplane, and outside of the airplane – I miss that… I miss it very much.”
However, though Co-Pilot Jim was never able to fly commercially again, he was he was declared medically fit to fly light sport aircraft. Jim purchased a 65-horsepower Luscombe 8A in Pennsylvania. His solo flight home to Alabama in the 1946 airplane was what he considered to be a personal triumph. At home, he used the airplane to teach his son Andy to fly.
The DC-10 in this flight sustained about $800,000 in damage. As of January 2011, it still flies in the Federal Express fleet.
After Federal Express Flight 705 Attack, Aviation Security Once Again Called into Question
Take to the Sky could not find any aviation changes related to what happened onboard Flight 705. Part of the reason may stem from the incident falling under the jurisdiction of the FBI and essentially being treated as a criminal case.
There is a single mention about airport and airline employee screening in a report in the Journal of Air Law and Commerce. It mentions two instances (referring to Flight 705 and another flight PSA Airline Flight 1771 – that one was when an airline employee shot both pilots and crashed the plane, killing everyone onboard):
Fortunately, due to updated regulations promulgated as a result of these two incidents that require the full screening of all employees traveling outbound on commercial flights as a passenger, incidents as severe as these have not occurred again. However, security issues involving airport badge holders are still very prevalent, and in recent years, incidents involving these individuals have been on the rise. These “new wave” breaches are designed to be well disguised and are extremely different in nature than the two discussed here.
But the issue of airport or airline employees being the cause of a disaster continues to be in mainstream conversation. A 2019 news story about several UN-proposed global standards for airport employee screening procedures stated that the US decided not to implement the standards because it could increase passenger congestion and costs, and the US did not think the standards were significantly more effective than its current practice of random screening, watch list vetting and background checks. Currently, the TSA employs random searches and pat-downs of employees as part of their Internal Threat procedures.
In a related incident, an airport employee in Egypt was suspected of placing a bomb onboard Russian MetroJet flight 9268 which crashed and killed everyone onboard in 2015. The investigation never proved one way or another how the plane came down or if the employee did in fact have anything to do with it.
In a 2020 GCN article by Derek Johnson, he points out, that because the Transportation Security Administration’s screening programs for airline passengers and baggage have become more widespread and effective at spotting threats, terrorists, criminals and nation-states, they are now turning to insider threats to achieve their goals.
A February 11, 2020 Government Accountability Office report called insider threats one of TSA's "most pressing concerns." According to the article, TSA has multiple offices working on insider threat mitigation, but those activities are not being guided by an overall strategic plan, the report stated. Further, the agency has not established performance goals and metrics to measure the effectiveness of those activities.
The agency set up an executive steering committee in 2018 specifically focused on providing oversight for insider threat programs. Another TSA body, the Aviation Security Advisory Council (ASAC), issued 21 recommendations for improvements in threat detection, assessment and response, aviation worker vetting, screening and access controls, training and engagement, information sharing and governance and internal controls. The TSA is supposed to have a strategic plan for insider threats finalized later in 2020.
And THAT is the story of the brave and heroic pilots onboard Federal Express Flight 705, who not only saved their own lives but also probably saved Fed Ex and countless other lives on the ground.