Documentary Film Summary
In the early morning hours of October 4, 1971, Commander 58 November was hijacked. It landed in Jacksonville where the FBI was waiting. The plane came to a full stop on the tarmac. Nine minutes later FBI agents opened fire, spurring the hijacker to kill everyone onboard before turning the gun on himself.
The pilot’s widow, Janie Downs, filed a wrongful death suit against the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover.
The trial would be heard by a former FBI agent, who refused a jury trial. The legal battles that followed would make history. They would also make life unbearable at times for the young widowed mother of two young boys. The case would launch the legal and political careers of Jim Neal, Jack Butler, Judge Gil Merritt, and Senator Fred Thompson.
The FBI was ordered to turn over certain documents to the Federal Court Judge. Director J. Edgar Hoover and Attorney General John Mitchell refused to turn over files that would have fatally damaged the FBI’s defense.
The FBI used brutal intimidation and smear tactics to discourage Janie Downs from calling into question the alleged efficiency of J Edgar Hoover and his FBI. The Bureau even filed a counter suit charging that “The Pilot failed to disarm his passengers prior to boarding the plane…”
This 90-minute documentary will include interviews with the people who were involved, newscasts, secret files the FBI had ordered sealed, and the actual audio of the pilot, Brent Downs, trying to talk the FBI out of opening fire.
The ordeal on the tarmac lasted less than ten minutes. My father, Brent Downs, was dead within seconds. My mother’s quest for justice took four years. Now, forty years later, we are asking for your help in telling a story the FBI does not want told.
Featuring interviews with John Seigenthaler‚ Attorney Jim Neal‚ Judge Gilbert Merritt Jr.‚ Jack Butler, Janie Downs, numerous eyewitnesses and participants
Produced by: Andy Downs and Anne Cates
Directed by: Demetria Kalodimos
Director of Photography: Alex Hall