Shortly into his flight from Karachi to Peshawar, Pakistan, hijackers took over Fred Hubbell’s plane.
It was March of 1981 and Fred and his wife, Charlotte, had just set off for a trip through North Africa and Southeast Asia. They were on the second leg of their journey when members of the terrorist organization Al-Zulfiqar rerouted their Boeing 720 and landed in Kabul, holding all 132 passengers hostage. The hijackers stalked the plane aisles, wielding pistols and hand grenades. They shot a man sitting near the Hubbells, a Pakistani diplomat, and left him to bleed out on the tarmac.
To pass the time, a 29-year-old Hubbell read a book about the partition of India—the only book he’d packed. He thumbed through an issue of Time magazine over and over again. He lingered on a single thought: Why me?
Hubbell was recounting the experience to me on a recent October morning while we bumped along on his campaign bus through southeast Iowa. The hijackers eventually released him in Damascus, Syria, after he’d spent 13 days on board the aircraft. But the event stayed with him through the decades. It helped him get his priorities straight, he said. It’s why he got more involved in his Iowa community—volunteering and joining boards and donating money. And it’s part of the reason that now, at age 67, he’s running for governor against the Republican incumbent Kim Reynolds. “When your life is threatened every day, you see somebody shot and killed a few feet away from you,” Hubbell explained, “you really start to think, What am I gonna do differently?”