Alongside Memphis International Airport in Tennessee there lies a sprawling complex filled with hundreds of miles of conveyor belts, thousands of employees, and millions of parcels. A steady stream of cargo planes⁠—often hundreds per day⁠—carries in cargo from around the world to be sorted and redistributed. This is the FedEx Express global “SuperHub,” and in spite of its titillating name it is seldom the site of much excitement. One notable exception to the day-to-day routine occurred in mid-1994. It was the same year that Federal Express embraced the abbreviated “FedEx” moniker and changed to their infamous hidden-arrow logo, and it was just four years after the release of MC Hammer’s multi-platinum hit U Can’t Touch This.

On 7 April 1994, just after 3:00pm, 39-year-old FedEx flyer Andy Peterson boarded a DC-10 cargo plane at the SuperHub. He was scheduled to join Flight 705 as the flight engineer; a support role in charge of monitoring and operating aircraft systems. As Peterson entered the aircraft, he was greeted by 42-year-old Auburn Calloway, a fellow flight engineer. Calloway introduced himself as the “deadhead,” for the flight. He was just there because he needed a lift.

Shortly the men were joined by the plane’s pilot, 49-year-old Captain David Sanders, and his 42-year-old co-pilot Captain Jim Tucker. The DC-10 had a bellyful of electronic gear bound for San Jose, ultimately destined for Silicon Valley. But flight 705 wouldn’t make it anywhere near California that day.

Flight 705 was the crew’s first time flying together, and none of the men had previously met Auburn Calloway, but each of the FedEx veterans knew his role well. To prepare for departure, Sanders and Tucker buckled into the cockpit, and Peterson took his seat at the flight engineering station just behind the co-pilot seat. As he settled in, flight Engineer Peterson discovered that their jump-seater Calloway had already begun the pre-flight procedure. This was considered a breach of etiquette, but Peterson opted not to raise a fuss. During his routine checks he noted that the circuit breaker for the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) needed to be reset, something he’d never seen before. When he returned to the cockpit after performing some other checks around the aircraft he noticed that the CVR fuse was once again in the off position. Perplexed, he corrected it and made a mental note to report the issue to maintenance if it continued.

Having completed their pre-flight preparations, the crew was cleared for takeoff. Calloway settled into the jump seat in the galley just outside the cockpit, and co-pilot Jim Tucker piloted the plane into the air. Barring any unexpected turns of events the voyage to San Jose and back was to take approximately 10 hours.

As the plane ascended to cruising altitude, Calloway unfastened his safety restraint and crossed the galley to retrieve his carry-on luggage. Sounds of laughter emanated from the cockpit as the flight crew joshed at the ground crew’s expense. Tucker was making jokes about the ground crew’s recent “goatrope”⁠—a term referring to good intentions gone wrong. As the new flight crew got to know one another, Calloway quietly opened a hard-sided acoustic guitar case he had carried with him onto the flight and withdrew a pair of hefty hammers.

Auburn Calloway in the Navy
Auburn Calloway in the Navy

Despite the calm, innocuous exterior Auburn Calloway had displayed to his fellow FedEx flyers that day, he was in a strange state of mind. His résumé suggested a healthy, well-balanced employee⁠—he was a graduate of Stanford University, a former Navy pilot, and an expert in martial arts. His earnest purpose in life was to provide a top tier college education for his two children, and he had taken a career in commercial flight as a pragmatic way to accomplish this. But recent circumstance had sent him into despair. He felt that FedEx had been discriminating against him due to his African-American heritage, squandering his piloting skills by assigning him as a mere flight engineer. His wife had divorced him four years earlier. Most recently, management at FedEx had discovered “irregularities” in the reporting of his flight hours. Calloway had been summoned to a hearing to discuss these suspicious inconsistencies on April 8⁠—the day after flight 705 took to the air. Calloway was convinced that this hearing would result in FedEx terminating his employment, along with any chance of providing a good future for his children.

In the week prior to the scheduled hearing, Auburn Calloway began rejiggering his financial affairs. He collected all of his wealth and transferred it to his ex-wife, including almost $14,000 in cashier’s checks and approximately $40,000 in securities. He visited a lawyer to revise his will, and he updated the beneficiary information on his employee life insurance. According to FedEx accidental death policy, if Calloway were to be killed on the job his family would receive an additional $2.5 million in compensation. Consequently, Calloway concluded that the only opportunity his children had for a fair future was for their father to perish in a work-related accident. And he was dead-set on creating one.

Prior to his flight, Calloway spent the day attending to a few last-minute details. He placed his will and some other important documents into a neat stack on the bed in his apartment, and he replaced the acoustic instrument in his guitar case with several blunt ones. He telephoned FedEx to secure his “deadhead” seat on flight 705, and he left early to ensure he’d be the first to arrive on the aircraft. When he boarded the plane he switched off the fuse for the cockpit voice recorder in the hopes that it would prevent any scuffle from being recorded. After Andy Peterson fixed the fuse Calloway tried once more when the flight engineer stepped away, but Peterson was too vigilant. As a backup plan, Calloway would need to fly the plane for at least a half an hour to erase any trace of a ruckus from the CVR’s 30 minute loop.

Several minutes outside of Memphis, Jim Tucker was in control of the craft as it climbed to cruising altitude. Captain Sanders pointed out landmarks through the cockpit window as Auburn Calloway stepped quietly into the cockpit. The flight engineer station was to Calloway’s right, and the pilots were just in front of him. All of them had their backs to the door, so they could only see him peripherally as he entered, and they assumed he had stepped in to visit. The first indication of trouble in the cockpit voice recorder transcript is a moist cracking sound and Andy Peterson shouting in pain and surprise:

A typical DC-10 cockpit
A typical DC-10 cockpit

Sanders: See these trees?

Tucker: Yeah.

Sanders: That’s a natural fault line.

Tucker: Oh, this is the New Madrid, uh…

Sanders: Well, it’s part of it, yeah, but it’s much higher in elevation and the er, climate is different, you drive in Arkansas, you drive right over it.

Tucker: Well, I…

Sanders: You see all those trees there, that’s it.

Tucker: I know it, but I wonder about that. You go, Wynne and all the, you know, stuff over here, you know, where it’s flat and you cross over that and I wondered about that. That’s not part of the no vaculight uplift and all that, that’s where? That’s further west, isn’t it?

Sanders: Yeah.

Peterson: Altimeters.

Tucker: Nines and twos here.

Peterson: After takeoff is complete.

Tucker: Do you, uh, live over in Arkansas, Dave, or…?

Sanders: Naw, I live in Fisherville.

Tucker: Aw, Fisherville, great spot.

(Sounds of hammer blows striking pilots.)

Peterson: Ow!

Tucker: God!

Tucker: Oh, ah, shit.

Sanders: God almighty!

Peterson: Ow!

Tucker: What the fuck are you doing?

Sanders: God, (groan), (groan), God almighty! God, God, God….

Tucker: Get him, get him, get him!

Sanders: He’s going to kill us.

Tucker: Get him!

Sanders: Get up, get him!

Peterson: I can’t, God!

Auburn Calloway had swung a hammer with great force into the top of Andy Peterson’s head several times in rapid succession. Jim Tucker turned to see what the commotion was about just as one of Calloway’s hammers landed a crushing blow to the left side of the co-pilot’s skull, driving bone fragments into his brain. Having temporarily incapacitated 2/3 of the crew, Calloway turned his attention to the pilot. Captain Sanders managed to deflect some of the hail of hammer strikes, nevertheless several blows penetrated his confused defenses and rendered him bleeding and disoriented.

Calloway withdrew back into the galley as the mauled crew members attempted to disentangle themselves from their seats with sluggish limbs and excruciating pain. The instrument panels were spattered with blood and all three men bled profusely from head wounds. Co-pilot Jim Tucker, unable to get out of his seat, repeatedly urged “Get him!” to his more mobile crew mates. Engineer Andy Peterson could barely hear due to a loud ringing in his ears.

Before Sanders and Peterson could mobilize, Calloway reappeared holding a spear gun. His initial attack employed blunt instruments because he knew that a bludgeoning would be consistent with the normal injuries sustained in an airplane accident, therefore avoiding suspicion of foul play. But he’d brought along his spear gun in case his hammers didn’t take all the fight out of the flight crew. “Sit down, sit down,” he commanded. “Get back in your seat, this is a real gun, I’ll kill ya.” In spite of their compromised conditions, it was quite clear to Sanders, Tucker, and Peterson that Calloway had already attempted to kill them once, and given the opportunity he was likely to resume that endeavor.

As Calloway trained the gun on Sanders, Peterson lunged from the side and grabbed the spear that protruded from the end of the gun. He yanked it to point it away from his crew mates.

“I’m gonna kill you!” Calloway shouted, “Hey, hey! I’ll kill ya!” Sanders seized the opportunity to grapple their attacker. The flight crew now had the advantage of numbers, but Calloway had the advantages of weapons, martial arts expertise, and an unbruised brain.

Hearing the telltale grunts of violent reciprocation, Tucker pulled back on his flight yoke and put the plane into a sharp climb. The FedEx co-pilot had once been a combat flight instructor, and he was intimately familiar with the effects of g-forces. His tactic succeeded in throwing Calloway off balance and back into the galley. Sanders and Peterson stumbled in pursuit. With waning strength the men attempted to wrestle the weapon from Calloway, but they were locked in an apparent stalemate. Without intervention, the crew was likely to lose the fight due to attrition.

Jim Tucker, hearing that the struggle was still underway, leveled out the airplane’s climb and cranked the flight yoke hard to the left to roll the plane onto its side. The female voice of the DC-10’s autowarning system began to chant “bank angle” to warn the crew that their maneuver was outside of normal operating parameters. The skirmish in the rear tumbled over to the left side of the aircraft.

“Get him, get him, get him, Andy,” Tucker shouted from the cockpit. “I got the airplane!” He continued to roll the plane until it was almost entirely upside-down. In the galley, the bloodied mass of men fell down onto the ceiling. Calloway managed to regain a grasp on one of his hammers that was rattling around the galley like a loose coin in a clothes dryer, and he freed one arm long enough to land another skull-cracking blow to Captain Sanders’ head.

Jim Tucker, continuing his tactical application of inertia, pulled back on the yoke to send the belly-up DC-10 into a steep upside-down dive. Calloway, Sanders, and Peterson were forced against the back wall. The DC-10 airspeed indicator pegged at maximum as the cockpit filled with the sounds of roaring wind, the urgent “overspeed” chant of the autowarning system, and the groans of flight surfaces which were not designed to withstand such punishment. The plane was traveling at more than 600 miles per hour, well above the safe maximum speed of the airframe. Much to his alarm, Tucker was rapidly losing all feeling and motor control on the right side of his body. He decreased the throttle⁠—which had been at full power since takeoff⁠—and began the process of pulling out of the dive and correcting the inverted aircraft.

In the galley, the situation was deteriorating. Sanders took yet another hammer blow to the top of his head, and he nearly blacked out. Peterson’s compromised temporal artery left him with a dangerous deficit of blood and strength. Having returned the DC-10 to level flight, Jim Tucker called in the emergency.

Tucker to Center: Center, Center, emergency!

Center: Aircraft with emergency, go ahead. (Pause) Aircraft with emergency, say again.

Tucker to Center: Center listen to me! Express 705, I’ve been wounded, we’ve had an attempted takeover on board the airplane, give me a vector please, back to Memphis at this time, hurry!

Center: Express 705 fly in zero niner five, direct Memphis.

Tucker to Center: Keep me advised, where is Memphis?

Center: Express 705, flighting of zero niner zero and the airport is at 43 miles twelve o’clock.

Tucker to Center: Say my direction to Memphis.

Center: Express 705, you’re eastbound at this time, and it’ll be about twelve thirty, one o’clock.

Tucker to Center: Look, just keep talking to me, okay?

Sanders: JIM!

Tucker to Center: Yeah, we need an ambulance and we need, uh, armed intervention as well. Alert the airport facility.

The FedEx arrow.
The FedEx arrow.

Following instructions from Memphis tower, Tucker began to descend below 10,000 feet as a precaution against explosive decompression. Meanwhile, in the galley, Calloway had found his second wind and renewed his resistance. Sanders and Peterson were running low on blood pressure and useful consciousness. “Put it on autopilot!” Peterson shouted to Tucker from the galley. “Help, the son of a bitch is biting me!”

“Andy!” Tucker shouted from the co-pilot seat. “Keep him back there guys, I’m flying!” He rolled the plane hard to the left then back to the right in an attempt to keep Calloway off balance.

“Hurry up, Jim!” Peterson urged as Sanders got a firm grip on a framing hammer and gave Calloway a brief brow-beating.

“Put it on autopilot and come back here!” Sanders seconded. “Hurry, Jim! COME BACK HERE NOW!”

Jim Tucker engaged the autopilot, unbuckled his seatbelt, and struggled from his seat despite nearly complete paralysis in his right limbs. As the radio squawked with urgent requests for a response from Air Traffic Control, Jim Tucker stumbled into the galley to see a barely conscious Andy Peterson lying atop the hijacker as Captain Sanders held the barbed spear to Calloway’s throat. Blood was smeared and spattered upon every visible surface, and dislodged detritus littered the room.

Jim Tucker relieved his captain from guard duty, and Pilot Sanders returned to the cockpit. Via radio, Sanders reiterated the need for security upon their arrival. When asked if the situation was under control, he responded, “Well, it’s sort of under control.” He had suffered considerable blood loss from several head wounds, he was blind in one eye, and his right ear was nearly severed. And his glasses seemed to have gone missing.

Sanders adjusted course to head back to Memphis. The plane was still nearly full of fuel, putting it well over the recommended safe landing weight, but the veteran pilot had little choice. He selected the longest available runway to allow maximum stopping distance.

A few minutes outside of Memphis, as the plane descended, Calloway suddenly lashed out again with renewed vigor. He dragged his handicapped captors across the galley as they struggled to regain the upper hand. Using his thumbs, Calloway attempted to gouge Jim Tucker’s eye out. Andy Peterson finally found purchase on a hammer handle from the floor and made eye contact with co-pilot Tucker.

“You’ve got to hit him,” Tucker said. Peterson hit him.

Flight 705 landed heavily on Memphis runway 36 about half an hour after their original departure. Despite the excess fuel weight Captain Sanders managed to stop the DC-10 with no blown tires and a few hundred meters of tarmac to spare. As emergency vehicles converged on the parked plane, Sanders emerged from the little room in the front of the plane where the pilots sit and opened the emergency escape chute.

Paramedic David Teague was the first to clamber up the ladder into Flight 705’s open doorway. No one on the ground knew anything about the emergency beyond the fact that there had been an attempted takeover. The scene that met the paramedic atop the ladder was strange and gruesome. Every horizontal and vertical interior surface of the DC-10’s small galley was spattered with crimson. There were bloody footprints on the walls and ceiling, and the upholstery had somehow been peeled entirely from the jump seat. Papers, packages, hammers, and brutalized FedEx employees were scattered around the plane. David Teague handcuffed the tenderized would-be hijacker, and the semiconscious crew disembarked via the inflatable escape slide.

At the hospital, Captain Sanders’ dangling ear was stitched back into proper position, and he was treated for multiple lacerations to his head and a dislocated jaw. Flight engineer Peterson’s skull had multiple fractures and his temporal artery had to be repaired. Co-pilot Tucker suffered severe skull fractures, including a hole larger than a golf ball. He would require months of physical therapy to regain full motor control in his right arm and leg, and a lifetime of anti-seizure medication. He was also partially blinded in his gouged eye. As for Calloway, his injuries were less severe, but his original fear was realized: FedEx elected to terminate his employment.

A screen shot of Calloway's no-longer-online support site.
A screen shot of Calloway's no-longer-online support site.

An FBI search of Auburn Calloway’s apartment turned up a suspiciously fresh Last Will and Testament lying on his bed⁠—a dead giveaway. They also found a note listing the names of the flight 705 flight crew, and another note listing the weapons he had brought with him on the plane. At Auburn Calloway’s trial the defense pleaded temporary insanity. The judge did not agree, and he told them so. After the defense failed to impress the court with other arguments regarding technicalities, a grand petit jury convicted Calloway of attempted aircraft piracy and sentenced him to life in prison with no possibility of parole. He is presently jailed in a federal prison near Atwater, California. For a while he maintained his innocence via, but the site is no longer online. Near the top of the page it proclaimed in an enlarged typeface: “When justice fails and hope grows cold / though it may not outwardly show / bitterness simmers in the soul / and hate begins to grow.”

On 26 May 1994 the crew of flight 705 was honored with the Air Line Pilots Association’s Gold Medal Award. The organization recognized the men’s heroism in withstanding the surprise bludgeoning, overpowering an armed martial arts expert, and saving the lives and property that would have been destroyed if the plane had crashed. Sadly, due to their injuries none of the men are medically fit for commercial piloting anymore. However David Sanders and Jim Tucker successfully acquired private pilots’ licenses and enjoy recreational flight from time to time.

In total, Auburn Calloway’s attempted hijack/suicide cost FedEx an estimated $800,000. The aircraft involved in the incident was repaired, and it still flies in the FedEx fleet as of 2011. It has been upgraded from a DC-10 to an MD-10; a revised model which eliminates the need for a flight engineer.

Considering his apparently selfless concern for his children’s futures, Auburn Calloway’s actions almost seem to have a tiny, twisted nucleus of noble intentions, yet his actions were clearly misguided. Additionally, he demonstrated cunning in his use of blunt instruments to simulate crash trauma, yet he left an orgy of damning evidence in his home. One wonders whether his mind was dulled with madness, or if perhaps he wanted the world to know what he had done once it was all over. Chances are we’ll never know exactly what was going through Calloway’s head before he boarded flight 705.