Lufthansa Flight 181

Lufthansa Flight 181
Lufthansa Flight 181
Hijacking summary
Date October 13, 1977
Type Hijacking
Site Over Mediterranean Sea, south of French coast
Passengers 86
Crew 5
Injuries 5 (1 flight attendant, 3 passengers and 1 hijacker)
Fatalities 4 (the captain and 3 of the 4 hijackers)
Survivors 91 (86 passengers, 4 crew, 1 hijacker)
Aircraft type Boeing 737-200
Aircraft name Landshut
Operator Lufthansa
Tail number D-ABCE
Destination Frankfurt International Airport

Lufthansa Flight 181 was a Lufthansa Boeing 737-230 Adv aircraft named Landshut that was hijacked on October 13, 1977 by four members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (who called themselves Commando Martyr Halime). On October 18, with the support of the Somali military, the aircraft was stormed by the West German counter-terrorism group GSG 9 in Mogadishu, Somalia and all 86 passengers rescued. The rescue operation was codenamed Feuerzauber (German term for "Fire Magic"). The hijacking was carried out in support of the Red Army Faction and is seen as part of German Autumn.


The Lufthansa crew

Two flight crew and three cabin crew operated the round trip flight from Frankfurt to Palma de Mallorca:

Jürgen Schumann (37)
Captain – former Luftwaffe Lockheed F-104 Starfighter pilot. On October 16 at Aden airport, after being permitted to leave to check the plane's airworthiness, he escaped in order to talk to authorities. He later returned and was subsequently murdered by terrorist leader Akache. Posthumously awarded the German Federal Cross of Merit 1st class. Survived by his wife and two sons. The building housing the Lufthansa Pilot School in Bremen was named in his honour as was a street in the Bavarian city of Landshut. Buried in Babenhausen in Hesse.
Jürgen Vietor (35)
Co-Pilot – former navy pilot. Piloted the Landshut from Aden to Mogadishu. Returned to work just 6 weeks after the hijacking and the first aircraft he was assigned to was the Landshut which had already been returned to service. He retired in 1999. He was also awarded the German Federal Cross of Merit 1st Class. He returned the medal in December 2008 in protest over the release on probation of former Red Army Faction terrorist Christian Klar who had been involved in the kidnap and murder of Hanns Martin Schleyer in 1977.
Hannelore Piegler (33)
Chief Stewardess.
Anna-Maria Staringer (28)
Gabriele Dillmann (23)
Stewardess. Christened "the angel of Mogadishu" by the German press. Also awarded the German Federal Cross of Merit. Subsequently married Lufthansa pilot Rüdeger von Lutzau. As Gabriele von Lutzau she has acquired an international reputation as a sculptor (principally figures in beechwood) and has exhibited in numerous exhibitions in Germany and throughout Europe.

Key German rescue personnel

Colonel Ulrich Wegener (48)
Former Army officer who was the liaison officer for the Armed Federal Border Protection group (subsequently the Bundesgrenzschutz) with the German Interior Ministry at the time of the massacre of Israeli athletes by the PLO at Munich Airport during the 1972 Olympic Games. He was subsequently appointed by the West German government to establish and lead an elite anti-terrorist squad. The unit was officially established on April 17, 1973 as a part of Germany's federal police agency, the Bundesgrenzschutz (federal border guard service) and the name GSG 9 stood for Grenzschutzgruppe 9 (border guard group 9) and was chosen simply because the Bundesgrenzschutz already had eight regular border guard groups. At the outset Wegener trained with both the British SAS and the Israeli Sayeret Mat'kal who were the only known established anti-terrorist units in the world at that time. He also participated in the rescue of Israeli hostages in Operation Entebbe in 1976.[1] Wegener planned and commanded the GSG 9 Operation Fire Magic to successfully rescue the Landshut hostages at Mogadishu. After his retirement from GSG 9, Wegener worked as a consultant to help establish counter-terrorism units for various foreign countries. Wegener is currently a member of the KÖTTER GmbH & Co. KG Verwaltungsdienstleistungen Security Committee.
Major Klaus Blatte (38)
The Deputy Commander of GSG 9 in 1977 and one of the four assault squad leaders that stormed the Landshut at Mogadishu. He became the next Commander of GSG 9 after Wegener retired.
Minister Hans-Jürgen Wischnewski (55)
Minister of State at the Federal Chancellery who was designated by Chancellor Helmut Schmidt as his special envoy to coordinate the political negotiations with the various foreign governments to facilitate the release or rescue of the Landshut hostages. Due to his excellent contacts and personal relationships with Arab leaders he was nicknamed "Ben Wisch" by the German press. He lost office after the CDU regained power in 1982 and became a travelling consultant to Arab, African and South American countries advising them on negotiating techniques and pacification policies to deal with terrorist and insurgent groups.
Chancellor Helmut Schmidt (59)
German Federal Chancellor 1974–1982 (Bundeskanzler) who adopted a tough and uncompromising stance over the kidnapping of Hanns-Martin Schleyer and the Lufthansa 181 hijacking in 1977. He authorised the GSG 9 mission to rescue the Landshut hostages and his anti-terrorist policies were successful in overcoming the long standing threat that had been posed by the German RAF faction. After retiring from the Bundestag in 1986 he was one of the founders of the committee supporting the EMU and the creation of the European Central Bank. At the age of 92 (September 2011) he is the oldest surviving German Chancellor.

The hijacking

At 11:00 am on Thursday October 13, 1977, Lufthansa flight LH181 Landshut, a Boeing 737, took off from Palma de Mallorca en route to Frankfurt with 86 passengers and 5 crew, piloted by Jürgen Schumann, with co-pilot Jürgen Vietor at the controls. About 30 minutes later as it passed over Marseilles, the aircraft was hijacked by four militants calling themselves "Commando Martyr Halime". Their leader was a Palestinian named Zohair Youssif Akache (23), who adopted the alias "Captain Martyr Mahmud". The other three were Suhaila Sayeh (22) a Palestinian, Wabil Harb (23) and Hind Alameh (22) who were both Lebanese. Akache (Mahmud) burst into the cockpit with a loaded pistol in his hand and ordered Vietor to join the passengers, leaving Schumann to take over the flight controls. Mahmud ordered Schumann to fly to Larnaca in Cyprus but was told that they had insufficient fuel and would have to land in Rome first.


The aircraft changed course and landed in Rome, Italy, for refueling. Acting in concert with the Red Army Faction group, the Siegfried Hausner Commando, who had kidnapped West German industrialist Hanns Martin Schleyer 5 weeks earlier, demanded the release of ten Red Army Faction (RAF) terrorists detained at the JVA Stuttgart-Stammheim prison plus two Palestinian compatriots held in Turkey and US$15 million. German Interior Minister Werner Maihofer contacted Francesco Cossiga and suggested that the plane's tires should be shot out to prevent the aircraft from leaving. After consulting his colleagues Cossiga decided that the most desirable solution for the Italian government was to get rid of the problem altogether. The aircraft was refuelled, which enabled Mahmud to instruct Vietor (who had been allowed back into the cockpit on the ground) to take off for Larnaca at 5.45 pm without even obtaining clearance from Rome air traffic control.


The Landshut landed in Larnaca, Cyprus, at 8:28 pm. After about an hour, a local PLO representative arrived at the airport and over the radio tried to persuade Mahmud to release the hostages. This only provoked a furious response from Mahmud who started screaming at him over the intercom in Arabic until the PLO representative gave up and left. The aircraft was then refueled and Schumann asked flight control for a routing to Beirut. He was told that Beirut airport was blocked and closed to them and Mahmud just said to him that they would go to Damascus instead. The Landshut took off at 10.50 pm heading for Beirut but was refused landing permission. After also being denied landing permission in Damascus, Baghdad and Kuwait they headed for Bahrain.


Schumann was told by a passing Qantas airliner that Bahrain airport was closed. He radioed flight control and told them they had insufficient fuel to go elsewhere and despite being told again that the airport was closed he was suddenly given an automatic landing frequency by the flight controller. They finally landed in Bahrain at 1.52 am the following morning. On arrival the aircraft was immediately surrounded by armed troops and Mahmud radioed the tower that unless they were withdrawn he would shoot the co-pilot. After a stand off with the tower, with Mahmud setting a 5‑minute deadline and holding a pistol to Vietor's head, the troops were subsequently withdrawn. The aircraft was then refuelled and they took off for Dubai.


Approaching Dubai, they were once again refused landing permission. Overflying the airport in the early light of dawn they could see that the runway was blocked with trucks and fire engines. Running short of fuel Schumann told the tower that they would have to land anyway and as they made a low pass over the airport they saw that the obstacles were being removed. At 5:40 am (October 14) Vietor was able to make a normal landing on the main runway.

In Dubai, the terrorists asked the tower to supply water, food, medicine and newspapers, and to take away the garbage. Captain Jürgen Schumann was able to communicate the number of hijackers onboard via four cigars with two broken in half to represent two females and the other two cigars left normally to represent two males. In an interview with journalists, this information was revealed by Dubai's Sheikh Mohammed, then Minister of Defense.[2] The hijackers learned about this – possibly from the radio, causing Mahmud to threaten to kill Schumann. The aircraft remained on the ground at Dubai all through the day and night. The following morning Mahmud threatened to start shooting hostages if the aircraft was not refueled and the Dubai authorities finally agreed. In the meantime, both Hans-Jürgen Wischnewski, the West German minister responsible for handling the hijacking, and Colonel Ulrich Wegener, commander of the elite German anti-terrorist squad GSG 9, had arrived in Dubai to try to get the government to agree to let GSG 9 commandos into Dubai to storm the aircraft. However, after permission was granted for GSG 9 commandos to storm the aircraft, SAS and GSG 9 senior operatives insisted on additional combat exercise and dry-runs on an adjacent airstrip. Reports suggest up to 2720 minutes (or 45 hours) of supplementary training was conducted whilst based in Dubai (over a period of 80 hours). While Wegener was considering his options, the Landshut had completed its refueling and at 12:20 am (October 17) it took off, heading for Salalah, Oman, where landing permission was once again denied, and a course to Aden, South Yemen, at the limit of their fuel range, was established.


In Aden, South Yemen, they were denied landing permission and the two main runways were blocked by vehicles. The plane was running low on fuel so the pilot Vietor had no choice but to make an emergency landing on a sand strip almost parallel to both runways. The Aden authorities told the hijackers that they would have to leave but the two pilots were skeptical over the condition of the aircraft after an emergency landing on sandy ground. Mahmud consequently gave Schumann permission to leave the aircraft in order to check the condition of the landing gear following the rough landing, and the engines. However, Schumann did not immediately return to the plane after the inspection, even after numerous attempts to recall him or even a threat to blow up the aircraft on the ground. The reasons for his prolonged absence remain unclear and some reports suggest that Schumann asked the Yemeni authorities to prevent the continuation of the flight and to accede to the terrorists' demands.[3][4]

After this Schumann returned to the aircraft to face the wrath of Mahmud, who forced him to kneel on the floor in the passenger cabin and then shot him in the head without giving him a chance to explain himself.[3][4] The plane was refuelled at 6 a.m. on October 17 and, coaxed by co-pilot Jürgen Vietor, it slowly and laboriously took off from Aden on course for the Somali capital of Mogadishu.


At around 6:22 am local time, the Landshut made an unannounced and perfect landing in Mogadishu, Somalia. The leader Mahmud (Akache) told Vietor that he had provided a super-human performance and that he was consequently free to leave the aircraft since they were not planning to fly elsewhere. However Vietor opted to remain with the onboard passengers and crew. Schumann's body was thrown on the tarmac and an ultimatum was set for the RAF prisoners to be released by 4:00 pm or the aircraft would be blown up. After pouring the duty free spirits over the hostages in preparation for the destruction of the aircraft, the hijackers were told that the West German government had agreed to release the RAF prisoners but that their transfer to Mogadishu would take several more hours, so they agreed to extend the deadline to 2.30 am the next morning (October 18).

Operation Feuerzauber (Fire Magic)

Operation Feuerzauber (Fire Magic)
Date October 18, 1977
Location Mogadishu, Somalia
Result GSG 9 victory
West Germany GSG 9

United Kingdom SAS (observers)
Somalia Somali Army (support)

Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine PFLP
Commanders and leaders
West Germany Ulrich Wegener Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine Zohair Akache  
30 GSG 9 Operators

2 SAS commandos

4 hijackers
Casualties and losses
1 wounded 3 killed

1 wounded/captured

1 civilian killed, 1 civillian wounded

Meantime, while the West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt attempted to negotiate an agreement with Somali President Siad Barre, special envoy Hans-Jürgen Wischnewski and GSG 9 commander Ulrich Wegener arrived at Mogadishu airport from Jeddah in a Lufthansa aircraft co-piloted by Rüdiger von Lutzau (Gaby Dillmann's fiancé). In West Germany, a team of 30 GSG 9 commandos under their deputy commander Major Klaus Blatte had assembled at Hangelar airfield near Bonn awaiting instructions. There is some controversy over whether members of the British SAS were directly involved in the operation.[5][6] The commandos took off from Cologne-Bonn Airport on a Boeing 707 on Monday morning (October 17) planning to fly to nearby Djibouti while Schmidt negotiated with the Somalis. When they were flying over Ethiopia, agreement was reached and permission was given to land at Mogadishu. The Boeing 707 landed at 8:00 pm local time with all lights out to avoid detection by the hijackers.

After four hours to unload all of their equipment and to undertake the necessary reconnaissance, Wegener and Blatte finalised the assault plan, scheduled to start at 2:00 am local time. They decided to approach from the rear of the aircraft in its blind spot in six teams using black-painted aluminium ladders to gain access to the aircraft through the escape hatches under the fuselage and via the doors over the wings. In the meantime a fictitious progress report on the journey being taken by the released prisoners was being fed to Mahmud by the German representatives in the airport tower. Just after 2:00 am Mahmud was told that the plane carrying the prisoners had just departed Cairo after refuelling and he was asked to provide the conditions of the prisoner/hostage exchange over the radio.

Several minutes before the rescue, Somali Commandos, who had established a perimeter around the plane, lit a fire 200 feet in front of the jet, which acted as a diversion, resulting in Akkash and two of the three hijackers to rush to the cockpit, isolating them from the hostages in the cabin.[7]. At 2:07 am local time, the GSG 9 commandos silently climbed up the blackened aluminium ladders and opened the emergency doors, Wegener, at the head of one group, opened the forward door, and two other groups, led by Sergeant-Major Dieter Fox and Sergeant Joachim Huemmer stormed the aircraft by using the ladders to climb up onto the wings and opened both emergency doors at the same time. Shouting in German for the passengers and crew to hit the floor, the commandos shot and killed two of the terrorists (Wabil Harb and Hind Alameh), and wounded Zohair Akache and Suhaila Sayeh, who was hiding in the toilet. Akache died of his injuries hours later. Three passengers and a flight attendant were slightly wounded. An American passenger aboard the plane described the rescue: "I saw the door open and a man appears. His face was painted black and he starts shouting in German 'We're here to rescue you, get down!' and they started shooting."[8]

The GSG 9 did not use SAS-supplied flash/stun grenades inside of the cabin, (which ironically were held up at customs at Dubai international airport) as often reported, because after a test in Dubai they were ruled out due to a high phosphor portion.[6]

The emergency escape chutes were deployed and passengers and crew were ordered to quickly evacuate the aircraft. At 2:12 am local time, just five minutes after the assault had commenced, the commandos radioed: "Frühlingszeit!Frühlingszeit!" (Springtime!Springtime), which was the code word for the successful completion of the operation. A few moments later a radio signal was sent to Chancellor Schmidt in Bonn: Four opponents down – hostages free – four hostages slightly wounded – one commando slightly wounded.

“Stuttgart” landed at Cologne Bonn Airport, on October 18th, 1977 with GSG9 team (seen) and hostages, photograph by Ludwig Wegmann

The rescuers escorted all 86 passengers to safety,[8] and a few hours later they were all flown to Cologne-Bonn Airport, where they landed in the early afternoon of Tuesday October 18, and were given a hero's welcome.[9]


News of the rescue of the hostages was followed by the deaths of RAF members Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin, and Jan-Carl Raspe at JVA Stuttgart-Stammheim. RAF member Irmgard Möller survived her injuries. On Wednesday October 19, the body of Hanns-Martin Schleyer, who had been kidnapped by the RAF 5 weeks prior to the hijacking, was found in the boot of a car in a Mulhouse side street after the RAF heard of the deaths of their comrades and contacted the Paris newspaper Libération. A post-mortem examination indicated that he had been killed the previous day.

After the Landshut crisis, the German government stated that it would never again negotiate with terrorists. German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt was widely praised for his decision to have the plane stormed.

While the hijackers had control of the plane it traveled over 6,000 miles.[8]

The aircraft

The former Landshut in Brazilian service

The Landshut was a Boeing 737-230C (manufacturers serial number 20254, Boeing line number 230, registration D-ABCE),[10] named after the city of Landshut in Bavaria. It was returned to service by Lufthansa after a thorough check and overhaul a few weeks later. In 1985, it was sold by Lufthansa to a Brazilian carrier. In January 2008, the Brazilian carrier TAF Linhas Aéreas stopped service of the aircraft under the registration PT-MTB due to severe damage. The name Landshut is still used by Lufthansa today, currently on an Airbus A330 (registration: D-AIKE, manufacturers serial number 636).

Musical influence

The song "122 Hours of Fear" by the Screamers recorded in 1978 was inspired by the hijacking.

The song "RAF" by Brian Eno and Snatch (Judy Nylon/Patti Palladin) was created using sound elements from a Baader Meinhof ransom message available by public telephone at the time of the hijacking.

See also


  1. ^ de B. Tallion, Paul J (2002). Hijacking and hostages: government responses to terrorism. Greenwood Publishing Group, p. 109. ISBN 0275974685.
  2. ^ "Neue Dokumente zur Landshut-Entführung". Der Spiegel. Retrieved 2008-11-18. 
  3. ^ a b onlineFocus from 08-25-2007. Retrieved on 12-01-2008.
  4. ^ a b Michael Hanfeld: Der wahre Held der „Landshut“, faz-net, 1. Dezember 2007. Retrieved on 12-01-2008.
  5. ^ The UK television documentary "Special Forces Heroes: Terror in the Skies" describes the training of members of GSG 9 by and participation of two members of 22 Regiment SAS, Major Alistair Morrison and Sergeant Barry Davies, whilst German reports, especially an interview with GSG 9 commander Ulrich Wegener, clarify that the two British SAS soldiers did accompany the GSG 9 Commandos as observers and did take part in the preparation of the attack plan.
  6. ^ a b Interview with Ulrich Wegener, Welt Online, 13. Oktober 2007, retrieved on 12-01-2008
  7. ^ Middle Eastern terrorism: from Black September to September 11, by Mark Ensalaco, pg pg 116
  8. ^ a b c "Terrorism, 1977 Year in Reivew."
  9. ^
  10. ^

Further reading

  • McNab, Chris. Storming Flight 181 – GSG 9 and the Mogadishu Hijack 1977 Osprey Raid Series #19; Osprey Publishing, 2011. ISBN: 9781849083768.

External links

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