On This Day

The Day the KNDO Hijacked a Burma Airways Jet

By Wei Yan Aung 25 June 2019

On this day in 1954, a three-member team from the Karen National Defense Organization (KNDO), led by Major Saw Kyaw Aye, hijacked a Dakota DC-3 Union of Burma Airways en route from Yangon to Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State.

The KNDO, an armed organization formed by the Karen National Union (KNU) in 1947 to defend the interests of Karen communities, would later become the Karen National Liberation Army.

After Myanmar regained independence from the British, in 1948, Saw Ba U Gyi, the KNU’s first president, urged U Nu, independent Burma’s first prime minister, to respect equal rights for all under a democratic system. He received no response from U Nu’s government before being shot and killed by Myanmar Army troops in Karen State in 1950.

“Piracy aboard UAB plane nets K724,000,” a headline in The Nation newspaper from 1953 read, left, after KNDO Major Saw Kyaw Aye, right, and two others hijacked a Union of Burma Airways jet on this day in 1954.

In 1954, losing to the Burmese Army and in need of weapons, the KNDO came up with a plan to hijack a plane in order to smuggle heavy weaponry that had been left behind by the Japanese to their resistance base in the Irrawaddy Region.

The plane spent hours in the air when Saw Kyaw Aye was unable to spot his fellow rebels on the ground. With fuel running out, the pilot was forced to land on a deserted sandbank in Gwa, sabotaging their plans for the weapons, but the hijackers ran away with 724,000 kyats in government funds.

“Piracy aboard UAB plane nets K724,000,” a newspaper headline reported.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.