TWA Flight 847

TWA Flight 847

Infobox Airliner accident|name=TWA Flight 847
Date=June 14, 1985
Site=Greek Airspace
Origin=Athens (Ellinikon) International Airport| Stopover=Leonardo Da Vinci International Airport
Destination=London Heathrow Airport
Aircraft Type=Boeing 727-231
Operator=Trans World Airlines
Tail Number=airreg|N|64339|disaster

TWA Flight 847 was an international Trans World Airlines flight which was hijacked by Lebanese Shia Islamists on Friday morning, June 14, 1985, after originally taking off from Cairo. The flight was en route from Athens, Greece to Rome, Italy, from where it was scheduled to travel on to London. The aircraft with its passengers and crew endured a three-day intercontinental ordeal during which one passenger, a U.S. Navy diver, was murdered. Dozens of passengers were then held hostage over the next two weeks, until released by their captors.

Hijacking events

Piloted by 58-year-old Captain John Testrake, the Boeing 727, tail number N64339 [ [ ASN Aircraft accident description Boeing 727-231 N64339 - Beirut, Algiers, Beirut, Algiers, Beirut ] ] , departed at 10:10 am, carrying 153 passengers and crew, including flight engineer Benjamin C. Zimmermann,See "Hostage in a Hostage World: Hope aboard Hijacked TWA 847" (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1985) for Zimmermann's account of this experience.] co-pilot Philip G. Maresca, and flight attendant Uli Derickson.

It was commandeered shortly after takeoff by two German-speaking Lebanese men who had smuggled pistols and grenades through the Athens airport security. A third intended hijacker, Ali Atwa, had been bumped from the flight and was later arrested in Greece.

To Beirut, then Algiers

The plane was diverted from airspace over Greece to the Middle East and made its first stop, for several hours, at the Beirut, Lebanon airport, where 19 passengers were allowed to leave in exchange for fuel. During this time, Lebanon was in the midst of a civil war, and Beirut was divided into sectors controlled by different militias.

On Friday afternoon, the aircraft continued on to Algiers, Algeria in North Africa where 20 passengers were released during a five-hour stop, before heading back to Beirut Friday night.

Back to Beirut

The Beirut International Airport, surrounded by a Shia neighborhood, had no perimeter security and nearby residents could simply drive onto the runway. During this stop, the hijackers identified a U.S. Navy diver, Robert Stethem, among the passengers. They beat him, shot him in the right temple, and dumped his body out of the plane onto the tarmac. Seven American passengers, who were alleged to have Jewish-sounding surnames, were taken off the jet by Hezbollah and sequestered in Beirut. [ [ Lebanon Hostage crisis] ]

Algiers again, Beirut again

Nearly a dozen armed men joined the hijackers before the plane returned to Algiers on Saturday, June 15, where an additional 65 passengers were released. It returned to Beirut for a third time, landing on Sunday afternoon, June 16, and remained there.

The initial demands of the hijackers included:
*the release of all 766 mainly Lebanese Shias transferred to Israel in conjunction with Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon; [Ranstorp, Magnus, "Hizb'allah in Lebanon : The Politics of the Western Hostage Crisis", New York, St. Martins Press, 1997, p.95]
*international condemnation of Israeli military activity in southern Lebanon; Fact|date=August 2007
*condemnation of U.S. actions in the Middle East; Fact|date=August 2007 and
*condemnation of the March 8, 1985, car bombing in the Beirut suburb of Bir al Abed earlier that year. The Greek government released the accomplice Ali Atwa and in exchange the hijackers released eight Greek citizens, including Greek pop singer Demis Roussos.

By Monday afternoon, June 17, most of the hostages had been taken from the plane to a secure location. The 40 remaining hostages were held by Nabih Berri, the chief of the Amal militia and the then Minister of Justice in the fractured Lebanon cabinet. One of the hostages was released when he developed heart trouble. The other 39 remained captive until June 30, when they were driven to Syria. The hostages then boarded a U.S. Air Force plane and flew to West Germany. Over the next several weeks, Israel released over 700 Shia prisoners, while maintaining that the prisoners' release was not related to the hijacking. [ [ Lebanon, the hostage crisis] ]


The iconic image of this hijacking was the photograph showing a hijacker holding a gun to the pilot's head (sticking out of the cockpit window) as the pilot is being questioned by reporters. [ Terror Mastermind's deception cause for skepticism] , "CNN.COM", February 14, 2008]

Flight attendant Uli Derickson was widely credited with calming the hijackers and saving the lives of many passengers. Because her German was the only common language with the hijackers, who spoke poor English, she acted as translator and liaison for most of the ordeal. Notably, she defused a tense situation in Algiers when airport officials refused to refuel the plane without payment by offering her own Shell Oil credit card, which was used to charge about $5,500 for 6,000 gallons of jet fuel, for which she later was reimbursed. She also hid the passports of Jewish passengers so they could not be singled out.

Israel released some of its Shia prisoners within a month after the hijacking ended. They stated that the release was unrelated to the hijacking and had long been planned.


Alleged perpetrators

Hezbollah specialist Magnus Ranstorp of the University of St. Andrews, credits "leading Hezbollah members Hassan Izz-Al-Din (later involved in the Kuwait flight 422 hijacking in 1988) and Mohammed Ali Hammadi whose brother was one of the heads of the Hezbollah SSA (Special Security Apparatus). Iran assisting Hezballah operatives in the "supervision and planning of the incident itself and as an active participant in the defusion and resolution." [Ranstorp, Magnus, "Hizb'allah in Lebanon : The Politics of the Western Hostage Crisis", New York, St. Martins Press, 1997, p.95] On October 10, 2001, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, three of the alleged hijackers, Imad Mugniyah, Ali Atwa and Hassan Izz-Al-Din, having been earlier indicted in United States district courts for the 1985 skyjacking of the American airliner, were among the original 22 fugitives announced by President George W. Bush to be placed on the newly formed FBI Most Wanted Terrorists list. Rewards of $5 million for information leading to their arrests and convictions still are being offered by the United States.

Another of the hijackers, Mohammed Ali Hammadi, was arrested in 1987 in Frankfurt, Germany (then West Germany), while attempting to smuggle liquid explosives, two years after the TWA Flight 847 attack. In addition to the West German charge of illegal importation of explosives, he was tried and convicted of Stethem's 1985 murder and was sentenced to life in prison. However, he was paroled and released by German officials on December 20, 2005, and returned to Lebanon. [ Germany paroles terrorist after 19-year term] , ""] [ Will Germany Release an American-Killer?] , January 27, 2004] As of February 14, 2006 the United States formally asked the Lebanese government to extradite Mohammed Ali Hammadi for the murder of U.S. Navy diver Robert Stethem during the 1985 hijacking. [ US 'seeks justice' for hijacker] , "BBC News"] On February 24, 2006, he appeared as well on the FBI Most Wanted Terrorists list, under the name Mohammed Ali Hamadei. He was among the second group of indicted fugitives to be named by the FBI to the list. [ FBI Updates Most Wanted Terrorists and Seeking Information – War on Terrorism Lists] , "FBI national Press Release", February 24, 2006]

Several news outlets [ Hezbollah: Top militant wanted by U.S. slain] , "MSNBC.MSN.COM" February 13, 2008] reported the announcement by Hezbollah of the death of Imad Mugniyah by explosion in Syria on February 13, 2008. The remaining three fugitives from TWA Flight 847 remain on the list, and at large.

Hezbollah reportedly denies culpability in the TWA Flight 847 attack, among its denials of numerous other attacks which have been attributed to the group. Still, the FBI wanted posters of each of the indicted fugitives alleges their individual membership or leadership role in the organization the FBI names as "Lebanese Hezbollah," which it plainly then calls a "terrorist organization."

References in popular culture

* The 1986 film "The Delta Force" was loosely based on this event.
* The 1988 made-for-TV film "" was directly based on this event.
* The Nitzer Ebb song "T.W.A." (from the album "Belief") appears to be inspired by this event, as it contains samples of someone saying "TWA flight 847" and "We must land at Beirut."


ee also

* Fawaz Younis
* Robert Stethem

External links

* [ Rewards for Justice Flight TWA 847 page]
* [ FBI Most Wanted Terrorists at web site]
* [ Uli Derickson - Legacy of Courage]
* [ Top Hezblloah militant slain]
* [ John Testrake, 68, TWA. Pilot Who Became Hero in Hijacking]

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