John T. Downey, who spent 20 years imprisoned in China, was captured when his plane was shot down during an attempted "snatch pickup". The spy they were supposed to retrieve had been turned by the Chinese, and they were waiting for the plane with anti-aircraft weaponry. This 1951 attempt was the first time the snatch pickup was tried in a war, according to this article about John T. Downey:
The snatch pickup was a bizarre maneuver, and an untested one. The process called for an aircraft flying at low altitude to hook a line elevated between two poles. Connected to the line would be a harness, into which an agent would be strapped. The contraption resembled a swingset, if that swingset was designed to be born aloft by a cargo plane. Two men in the back of the plane would operate a pulley, dropping the hook intended to catch the agent and then reeling in the line; both the operators and the pilots required extensive training. Describing the operation in his 1984 book Perilous Missions, a history of CIA covert operations in Asia, William M. Leary writes that the agent was forced to sit impassively in his harness, awaiting possible decapitation, among a litany of other potential injuries. The pickup of Downey’s courier would be the first time the CIA ever carried the plan into action. The Air Force deemed the operation too risky to try.
Whatever happened to this technique? Is it used today?