RANCHO SANTA FE — “Freedom,” Frank Iszak said. It was the one word used most in the headlines emblazoned across the front pages of newspapers describing what it was he and six others were after when they hijacked a commercial airliner, flying it out from behind the Iron Curtain in a daring escape more than 50 years ago.
And the papers couldn’t have been more right in the use of that word, Iszak said.
The slight figure, whose face is now brushed with a mustache and salt and pepper stubble, peered out from eyes half-hidden by squinting eyelids.
As a fresh-faced 25-year-old, Iszak and six others ranging in age from 19 to 25 sought their chance to escape the Communist country of Hungary. If they failed, they knew they would be killed.
At 82, he carries with him the memories of being what he called a “slave” for 25 years in his native Hungary.
Those memories were finally put to the page in his memoir, “Free for All to Freedom.”
“The past is always with me,” Iszak said in his quiet and somewhat faraway voice.
“It’s very hard to forget.”
But the time was right to begin his book because now, he said, he’s getting to the “sunset” of his days. “I felt that it’s time to make this memoir, so maybe somebody can learn. Certainly, people enjoy reading it. It’s full of cliffhangers.”
On that day, Friday, July 13, 1956, Iszak said goodbye to his parents and told them he would be home for Christmas.
He knew he wouldn’t.
That was the last time he ever saw them, he said.
To this day, he still doesn’t know what happened to his mother and father.
Some people who were alive at the time, told him that his father was severely beaten, he explained. Others, he added, told him that nothing had happened to them.
Iszak returned to face his past on three occasions once the Communist regime had collapsed, he said. In 2006, on the 50th anniversary of his escape, Iszak was invited back to Hungary to receive honors from parliament.
The plane was flown by one of Iszak’s associates, George, whom he credits in the book for saving his life. “Had it not been for him, this book would never have been written. Dead men don’t write books,” he writes on the dedication page.
A news report from the New York Times tells of how the seven students subdued the plane’s crew, including a secret policeman.
Then, flying the plane as best as possible, and without any communications or radio they managed to land at a half-finished NATO airfield about 80 miles from the Czechoslovakian border, Iszak explained.
The plane and all on board had made it to West Germany, where Iszak and the six others requested asylum.
The remaining crew and passengers returned to Hungary.
“The sight of the Jeep with the stars and stripes, it was indescribable,” Iszak said. “Every time I get very emotional and I can’t even think about it,” he said.
Life for Iszak following the hijacking has been, he said, a “roller coaster.”
“I tried many things. Some of them I succeeded, some of them I failed.”
The freedom he had in U.S. gave him a lot of ups and downs, he explained.
For several years during the ‘60s, Iszak toured the U.S. telling his story, but, when flights began being hijacked at a more regular rate, he stopped talking about it because of the negative connotations being associated with it.
On being accepted by the United States, he made a promise that he would pay back that debt of receiving his freedom.
It took him several years to fulfill his promise — 40 to 50 years later — he said, but did so through his yoga teachings and his Silver Age Yoga outreach program that provides free yoga classes to seniors worldwide.
Each day he can still be found teaching yoga, mostly to private classes at his Rhythm Yoga and Dance Studio in Rancho Santa Fe with his third wife Serpil.
At other times Iszak continues work as a private investigator.
A movie is in the works for Iszak, the development phase has been completed and he’s looking to begin raising funds for the film’s production.
He still gives talks on occasion, his latest at the Rancho Santa Fe Library June 27.
His hopes for the book: “I’d like to have it on the best-seller list eventually,” he said.
But he’s not worried about money.
He wants people to like the book, mostly.
“Life is, at this time, it’s really a different proposition than it was 50 years ago…what do I need money for?
“Other than paying my mortgage, driving my car, feeding my face and do some good to the people who are around and deserve it.”