True Australian crime stories from newspaper reports and historic crime records.
Doomsday Flight Bomb Hoax
Wednesday 26th September 1971:
Mr Brown's Qantas Flight Bomb Hoax
Half a million dollars against the lives of passengers on a Hong Kong-bound Qantas flight -- these were the stakes in a tense extortion drama played out in Sydney today.
Soon after noon, a man rang the Commonwealth Police in Sydney claiming that Qantas flight 755, a Boeing 707 which had just left for Hong Kong, carried a time-bomb on board. The man, calling himself 'Mr Brown', said the bomb would explode once the jet had descended below 6,500 metres.
However, he added. for a small consideration -- such as $500,000 in used, unmarked banknotes -- he would reveal where the bomb was hidden.
Just in case police felt that he was bluffing, 'Mr Brown' set up a very elaborate test of his skills and intentions. He directed police and Qantas officials to a locker at Sydney Airport's international terminal where they found, in a vinyl bag, a home-made bomb.
Experts verified that the bomb was 'live' and fitted with an altitude activator set at 1,500 metres. They defused the bomb and replaced the explosives with a testing light bulb. A Boeing 707 was then sent up with a Qantas official, climbing to 2,600 metres. He watched nervously: as the aircraft dropped to 1,500 metres, the light bulb on the altitude activator came on.
Mr Brown, it seemed, wasn't bluffing. A similar device, attached to a time bomb, would obliterate a plane in the air.
Qantas ordered the plane back to Sydney; passengers were told that there was a 'technical fault.' For several hours the plane circled Sydney near Botany Bay. Soon the amount of fuel left in the tank became
Brown called with the first of his instructions
Meanwhile, the drama in Sydney continued. At 3 p.m. Mr Brown called again, with the first of his instructions regarding delivery of the $500 000. He also phoned an hour later, when he was told that Qantas was willing to go along with his demands, then again at 5.28 p.m. to finalise the arrangements. Soon afterwards a Kombi van stopped in front of Qantas House and there General Manager Captain Ritchie pushed the heavy suitcases of banknotes through a window.
Mr Brown then disappeared in the Kombi. With the plane still circling and running out of fuel, Mr Brown called once more, at 6.20 p.m. 'You can relax,' he said, 'there is no bomb aboard the plane . . . You can land her safely'. And they did.
The Manhunt Begins...
Now the manhunt began. A phonetic expert said that judging by his voice, Mr Brown was an Englishman, probably from the Midlands, who had been in Australia about two years. The analysis was spot on.
Mr Brown, as it was revealed later, was an English migrant partly of Italian origin, Peter Macari, who had arrived in Australia some two years earlier after having skipped bail in Britain on an indecent assault charge.
Macari's sole entry into the Australian business world had backfired: he had lost half his life savings of $25,000 and began to travel. It was one night in Townsville, while sitting in his motel room, that he saw a rerun of a movie, 'Doomsday Flight'. Almost at once, he decided to replay the movie -- in real life.
A few weeks later, at Mt Isa, he befriended a miner who sold him some explosives and taught him how to use them. Macari felt he was ready for the big time. Although initially Macari and a minor accomplice, Raymond Poynting resisted the urge of spending big (Poynting's share was $50,000), soon the temptation proved too great. First Macari bought a Jaguar, then a penthouse at Bondi, two more cars followed, one for Macari and one for Poynting who couldn't even drive.
Then Poynting got himself a license, bought another car, a range of other luxury items and finally persuaded Macari to sell him the Jaguar, too. Poynting, the struggling barman, now had three cars -- certainly enough to draw the attention of a service station attendant who contacted the police. His call was one of 14,500 received over some weeks, in response to a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of 'Mr Brown'.
Soon police picked up Poynting at his Bondi flat -- and he caved in at once, confessing his part in the robbery. He also broke a pact with Macari 'never to dob' in case one of them got caught and, the same day, Macari was also arrested. Now only the epilogue remained to be played out. Some of the money had been spent, of course, but $138 000 was found behind a cement-rendered wall in an old fireplace. Almost $250,000 was unaccounted for, however.
Macari received a fifteen-year jail term and Poynting got seven years. In 1980 Macari was suddenly paroled and extradited from Australia. Fittingly enough, he travelled back to London with Qantas. When last heard of, Macari was running a small fish-and-chip shop in the south of England, bought for him by his brothers, and probably dreaming of returning to Australia to lay his hands on the missing fortune.
Late in 1984 it was announced that a film on the Qantas bomb hoax would be made in Australia.