January 26, 2019

Pages 5562
Whole Number 195


We regret to report the death on February 26, 2001, of one of our long-time and most generous members, William R. Haas, Sr. of La Grange, Tennessee. His widow, Ann George Haas, has shared with us the following obituary written by John Semien for a local newspaper.

Retired Northwest Airlines pilot William Robert 'Billy Bob' Haas, who coolly guided an airline jet hijacked by three gunmen to Cuba in 1972, died Monday of heart failure. Mr. Haas, a resident of La Grange, was 72. He died at Methodist Hospital of Fayette County in Somerville.

In November 1972, Mr. Haas was piloting a Southern Airway jet out of Memphis when it was hijacked by three gunmen after a stop at Birmingham. There were 27 passengers on the plane, along with the two pilots and two flight attendants. The gunmen demanded $10 million, flak vests and food and drink. They held grenades to the pilots' heads and shoved guns in their faces. But even after FBI agents shot out the plane's tires, Mr. Haas flew the DC9 to Cuba, where it landed on a foam-covered runway in Havana and the hijackers were apprehended.

A co-pilot was shot in the shoulder, but no one was killed during the three-day ordeal in which Haas made nine stops, including two in Havana. Retired Northwest pilot Bill Himmelreich, a long-time friend of Mr. Haas's, called him "a cool, calm pilot." "If you were going to have a three-day, marathon hijacking, this was the man you would want on the flight," Himmelreich said Monday. Mr. Haas, who later wrote a book about his experience [Odyssey of Terror, 1977] also lobbied Congress for increased airport security and passenger screening.

Before becoming a pilot, he served in the Marine Corps and Army. He flew for Southern Airlines and Northwest Airlines before retiring in 1986. Mr. Haas was a Methodist and active in the Airline Pilots Association. He once served as Master Executive Council chairman for Southern Airways in Memphis. He also was an alderman in La Grange for several years and was vice-mayor when he died.

Mr. Haas leaves his wife, Ann George Haas of La Grange, and one daughter, Elizabeth Haas of Memphis; four sons, William Haas, Jr., of Cleveland, Tenn., Gerry Steven Haas of Murfreesboro, Tenn., James Dalton Haas of Somerville, and John Garner Haas of Goodlettsville, Tenn., and a sister, Frances Elizabeth Haas Clifton of College Grove, Tenn.