I talk in the book a little bit about these reporters swarming these airports on the day they launched universal screening and hoping they would catch some kind of conflict or disgruntled fliers. But pretty much to a man and to a woman, people welcomed the new security because they recognized -- especially in light of what had happened in 1972 with all the craziness -- that this was a necessary step.
CNN: Can you share some personal details about your research process and maybe some unique experiences or surprises you ran into along the way?
Koerner: One thing that's interesting for me is, I travel a lot as a journalist, but I've never really paid much attention to airline personnel on the planes and the lives of pilots and flight attendants. And that really became something I became very deeply immersed in.
With this project I was trying to track down flight attendants and pilots who had been on this hijacked flight which is the focus of the book -- Western Maryland Flight 701.
I traveled all over the country talking to people who'd been on the flight to get their recollections of it. Most interestingly, I actually tracked down one of the hijackers. He was living in San Diego. And I found him and it took me a while -- he was difficult to find. I couldn't get a phone number. I eventually just got an address for him through a series of happy accidents.
I sent him a letter and a copy of my first book and he was kind enough to respond. And that was a tremendous experience and a tremendous boost for the book, to get his recollections and memories and details that only he had.
CNN: Was that Roger Holder?
Koerner: Yes, it is.
CNN: Based on what you knew about the hijacking and based on the man you met -- how do you think he has changed?
Koerner: You have to keep in mind that he did this act when he was quite young. He was 22 years old when he hijacked this plane, and he'd served four tours in Vietnam. I think the combination of youth and the difficulties associated with his military service and maybe some other factors -- maybe some psychological factors -- made him an angry person.
And he lashed out. He acted out in a pretty extreme, spectacular kind of way with this hijacking.
I think age and experience changes everybody. And the man I met was a very thoughtful, very calm, incredibly charismatic person. It was really a joy to sit down with him. At the same time I could see him struggling to come to terms with what he'd done and what his role in history was.
For him, he had pretty fond memories of a lot of aspects of this. Not so much causing people terror or consternation -- but the experience that came afterwards with his travels and being in the public spotlight was something that weighed heavily on him and he thought about quite a bit.
CNN: So why don't we know what happened to his co-hijacker Cathy Kerkow?
Koerner: That's the million dollar question in the book. I don't want to give too much away, but certainly the last time that she connected with Roger, she said she was going to Switzerland for a brief trip with friends.
Based on information I have, I believe she tried to carve out a new identity -- that she decided that this was her chance to gain a new life. They were waiting around to be put on trial in France for hijacking and she didn't know how that was going to turn out.
Her relationship with Roger had come to an end -- at least romantically. And I felt that she sensed that this was her opportunity to move beyond all this -- to move beyond the folly of her youth.
CNN: When you were writing the book were you sensitive to glorifying the anti-hero aspect of Holder's and Krekow's story? I've seen them compared to the notorious 1930s bank robbers Bonnie and Clyde.
Koerner: I think you need to approach these kinds of stories with empathy for everyone involved. At the same time you do have to be judgmental to some extent and recognize that their actions caused a lot of people a lot of pain.
And I know for a fact that they're aware of that.
It's a deeply human story, and all humans have their pluses and minuses, so I think that should come through in all the characters in this book.
CNN: You write about Holder's anger about prosecutors' treatment of political activist Angela Davis. During your research did you reach out to Davis?
Koerner: I didn't, because from what I understand she doesn't like talking about the past, and she never met any of these characters. I did reach out to some other people who wouldn't go on the record with me, for example (Black Panther Party leader Eldridge Cleaver's widow) Kathleen Cleaver, who I know was an eyewitness to these events.
CNN: Could you describe Fidel Castro's Hijacker House? And how and why did Cuba set itself apart during all of this?
Koerner: A lot of people were hijacking planes to Cuba in the '60s. A lot of hijackers, I think, thought they would be greeted as heroes when they arrived in Havana. But it was actually quite the opposite.