In Russia and Colombia, where foreigners can be kidnapped, the company rolls with bodyguards. The extra muscle is strictly for self-defense, however. If repo resistance escalates to the physical, “you just have to walk away,” Popovich says."Grab the Airplane and Go"
Well, he says that now. During a repo in the mid-1980s, both sides got physical. A U.S. financier had hired Popovich to snatch a Boeing 720 from a tour operator in Haiti who was in default. Though the aircraft had a book value of only $600,000, an airport manager refused to release it unless a million dollars was deposited in a Swiss bank account. Having made arrangements with an entrepreneurial Port-au-Prince airport employee, Nick showed up around midnight with an air starter (720s lack an onboard auxiliary power unit to start engines). The field had been closed for hours when the team fired up the big turbofans. As he began adding power, Popovich says, “I saw the first tracer rounds streak over the top of the airplane.”
He veered to a stop and Haitian troops swarmed the airplane, bayonetting fuel cells in the wings. “I got out and shoved one of them,” Nick says with a sigh. “The rest of them beat the hell out of me and threw me into the national penitentiary in downtown Port-au-Prince. A dirt-floor cell with no roof and 35 people in it.” In addition to the million-buck drop in Switzerland, the Haitians wanted $150,000 to release Popovich. “The American embassy did nothing for me,” he grumbles. A week later, however, the regime of dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier collapsed. The prison gates were thrown open. “Everyone ran out into the street,” Nick laughs. “But that plane is still down there today. The only commercial aircraft that got away from us.”
David Pescovitz is Boing Boing's co-editor/managing partner. He's also a research director at Institute for the Future. On Instagram, he's @pesco.