YUBA (CBS13) – Investigators say a man allegedly jumped into a helicopter at a local airport and ordered the pilot to take off — under the orders of Fidel Castro.
The man behind the controls of the chopper recalled the frightening incident to CBS13.
“It all happened so fast, and it’s just not something you expect,” said veteran pilot Erik Vandagriff.
It’s not something Vandagriff will ever forget after coming face-to-face with the alleged would-be hijacker.
“He was in a full blown run, like he was charging us,” said Vandagriff.
Deputies say Zachary Hinders broke on to the Yuba County Airport runway and headed straight for Vandagriff’s chopper, right before takeoff. Vandagriff got out when he saw Hinders on the runway.
“The initial thought was maybe there’s an emergency or there’s something wrong with the aircraft,” said Vandagriff.
But Hinders was apparently not offering help.
“I don’t know what he wanted, but he wanted to go somewhere,” said Vandagriff.
He says Hinders jumped into the chopper, opening a door and sitting down.
“I was looking through the door to make sure he wasn’t going to shoot us or, I mean we had no idea at this point,” said Vandagriff.
Seeing Hinders was unarmed, Vandagriff opened the door and demanded him to get out.
“I told him, ‘We’re not taking you anywhere. You need to get away from us,’” said Vandagriff.
Deputies said Hinders would eventually comply and run back down the active runway. He then jumped a barbed wire fence to leave.
Vandagriff was able to flag down some passing deputies who placed Hinders in custody.
According to those deputies, the suspect said he wasn’t the mastermind behind the ordeal, instead claiming “Fidel Castro had told him to take the helicopter.”
Vandagriff is just thankful he’s safe after an alleged attempted hijacking ended up never leaving the ground.
“Do I think it’ll happen again? Not to me,” said Vandagriff.
Vandagriff says despite jumping that barbed wire fence, the suspect was not severely injured.
It’s unclear if the Federal Aviation Administration has plans to conduct its own investigation.