November 1, 2017 Edition

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Johnson to be inducted
45 years after hijacking

Harold Johnson will be inducted into the Arkansas Aviation Hall of Fame on Nov. 9.

Each year the Arkansas Aviation Historical Society honors a select few individuals who have made significant contributions to the development of aviation in Arkansas or the nation. This year, one of the three honorees is Harold Johnson of Walnut Ridge.

On Thursday, Nov. 9, the Arkansas Aviation Historical Society will induct Johnson, as well as Zane Anderson and General William Smith into the Arkansas Aviation Hall of Fame.

The ceremony will be held from 6-8:30 p.m. in the CALS (Central Arkansas Library System) Ron Robinson Theater in Little Rock. Tickets are available at The Arkansas Aviation Historical Society website, arkavhs.org.

Born in Saline County in 1935, Johnson served as pilot and flight instructor from 1955 until 1965, when he joined Southern Airways as an airline pilot.

In 1972, Harold and his wife, Janie, and their daughter, Debbie, were living in Walnut Ridge, and Harold commuted to work in Memphis. From there, he frequently piloted three and four day trips.

However, that routine was disrupted on Friday, Nov. 10, 1972. While serving as copilot on a DC-9, Johnson's flight was hijacked. During the hijacking, which included multiple stops, he was wounded by a gunshot in his arm.

At a stop in Orlando, FBI agents attempted to prevent the plane from taking off by shooting out the airplane's tires. This caused the hijackers to panic. When it became apparent that one of the hijackers was going to shoot, Johnson dove for the floor. As he did, the hijacker shot, and a bullet went through the seat back and tray table and into Johnson's arm, just below the shoulder.

The ordeal lasted almost 30 hours and ended in Cuba. None of the passengers was injured.

Founded museum

In 1999, Johnson founded the Wings of Honor Museum in Walnut Ridge and continues to serve as board president. The museum preserves the history of the Walnut Ridge Army Air Field, the story of World War II and honors those who served.

In addition, the museum highlights other significant history of the air field, including the Marine Corps Air Facility; the War Assets Administration's Warbird storage, sales and scrapping facility; and the USAF 725th Radar Squadron.

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